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Karen Morrissey was one of the unsung heroes of the legal profession in 2012.
She was director of administration at the London base of Dewey & LeBoeuf during the US firm’s swift collapse and was the primary figure responsible for ensuring staff found jobs once it was clear the office would shut. She handled everything from getting the boiler fixed to staff and partner recruitment.
Previously head of HR for London and the Middle East, she became director of administration in late 2011 after Julia Sherlock left for Slaughter and May. At the time she would not have known what she was letting herself in for, but it soon became clear.
The partner exodus, which started in earnest in March 2012, meant legal and support staff saw their bosses flying out of the door as their own futures became less certain. Things were generally easier for associates, who were often taken on by partners’ new firms, but large numbers of back-office staff and trainees were still left in the lurch.
Despite what was going on around her, Morrissey rolled up her sleeves and effectively ran the London office. HR fell under her wider remit, meaning she had access to information about every member of the London personnel and felt personally responsible for their fate. She even wrote CVs for support staff to help them find new roles.
Although she was one of the longest-standing staff members, having been there for 12 years, unlike most of the partners she didn’t have a job lined up for herself post-Dewey. She stayed at Dewey until September, working alongside BDO, CMS Cameron McKenna and the wind-down team, before moving to her native Ireland to take a well-earned rest before even thinking about a new job. Her conduct is in strong contrast to the much-publicised actions of certain senior partners who jumped the sinking ship while staff feared redundancy.