I recently had the privilege of interviewing Amy Walsh, a partner in the New York office of Morvillo LLP. Amy represents individuals and institutions in government investigations, enforcement actions, and prosecutions conducted by various government agencies. She was recently appointed as a monitor in the JPMorgan Chase’s settlement with the DOJ. Prior to entering private practice, Amy was an Assistant United States Attorney for 12 years in the United States Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of New York and was former Chief of the Business and Securities Fraud Section. Amy frequently publishes and speaks on various topics related to her practice, and has been named regularly in Super Lawyers in the area of white collar defense. I am thrilled to introduce you to Amy Walsh. She reminds us all that you don’t need to be a partner in BigLaw to be breaking the glass ceiling in white collar corporate work.
Susan Bozorgi: What inspired you to become a criminal defense attorney?
Amy Walsh: I was inspired to practice criminal law – first as a prosecutor, then as a defense attorney – when I was clerking for a federal judge. Although the civil cases were intellectually interesting, the stakes are so much higher for someone who could lose his or her liberty that the work seemed much more meaningful to me.
SB: You are the only woman partner at your firm, which is typical for many women working in small to mid-size firms. How, if at all, does this shape your work or role in the firm?
AW: Women often bring a different perspective to various aspects of a law practice: how to interact with a particular client, how to articulate an argument in front of a particular judge, and how to generate business. I’ve found that if the men in the room value that different perspective – and all of my law partners do – it can greatly enhance relationships with clients, other lawyers and professionals within the firm.
SB: What do you think it takes to make it in private practice? Is the advice different for a woman?
AW: I’m not sure the advice would be different for a woman or a man, but my advice is threefold: (1) Work on as many matters as possible, because, in my experience, work begets work; (2) No matter how busy you are, stay 100% on top of your matters and your interactions with other lawyers. (There’s nothing that turns a potential referral source off more than getting the impression that you don’t have your act together because it takes days to get a return email or you haven’t mastered the facts of the case); (3) Develop and nurture as many relationships with other lawyers as possible, which means connecting with lawyers that you’re working with at other firms, then following up with them and anyone else you know to go out to lunch, dinner, drinks, or whatever activity you think would be relaxing and fun to do together.
SB: What has been your most successful business development strategy?
AW: I love to socialize, so for me it has been developing relationships with other lawyers where we can have fun in an informal way but also can brainstorm about issues that are coming up in our cases. I actually think that this aspect of business development is something that women naturally thrive at, but the key is to realize that there’s no reason to be shy about asking someone to have lunch or expressing an interest in working together. Women usually want to work together!
SB: Did you have women mentors? How did they — or the absence of women mentors — impact your career?
AW: I had lots of women role models, but not necessarily a woman mentor. When I was in the US Attorney’s Office, I spent a lot of time watching other lawyers try cases and watching judges on the bench. For me, there was nothing better than identifying a style that I liked and thought could work for me, and then modeling my behavior after that style. There were many women AUSAs and judges in the EDNY that I admired and modeled my behavior after (and still do).
SB: Of the women that you admire in the field, what do you find inspiring about them?
AW: What inspires me most about the women I admire is their fearlessness. Which doesn’t mean that they’re jerky or arrogant. What it means is that they’re not afraid to take on a new case in an area that they’re not already an expert it; they’re not afraid to socialize in a room full of strangers and connect with at least a couple of people; and they’re not afraid to fail and try again.
SB: What is the road you would advise best prepares a young woman to have her own white collar criminal defense practice one day?
AW: I might be showing my bias for the path that I took, but I think it’s being a prosecutor. Working as a prosecutor gives you the greatest opportunity to try cases and enables you to understand in the pre-indictment phase how a prosecutor will react to certain arguments. Both of these skills are critical to representing clients in the white collar defense world.
SB: I see that you were recently appointed to act as a monitor for JPMorgan Chase in one of its settlements with DOJ. How have you found that work?
AW: The monitorship has been an incredibly interesting and rewarding experience so far. Acting as a monitor is very different from the usual role of acting as an advocate. For a monitorship to work effectively, there has to be mutual trust and acceptance between the monitor and the company being monitored. That requires building a relationship that is independent but not adversarial, and requires striking the delicate balance of being tough but yet reasonable. I’ve really enjoyed the experience so far and hope to do more of that work in the future.
SB: What words best describe you as a defense attorney?
AW: Positive, empathetic, straightforward, and unflappable.
SB: Most important weapon in your defense arsenal?
AW: This may seem heretical to those who pound their fists on the table, but one of my weapons is the ability to bring down the temperature of my adversary. I can almost always engage my adversary in a candid discussion about what each side needs and is looking for, which usually yields a tremendous amount of information about the strength of the government’s case, possible defenses, and the risks that my client is facing. On the other hand, prosecutors also know that I’m not afraid to go to trial if we can’t find common ground. So I think it’s the juxtaposition of those aspects of my experience and personality that enables me to effectively represent my clients.
SB: If you could go back and give your 30-year-old self any advice, what would it be?
AW: Embrace every work opportunity that comes along. Even if it doesn’t come along, don’t be afraid to go to the partner-in-charge and ask to be put on an interesting case. Most women have a hard time shedding the idea (that we’ve all been socialized to) that you have to wait around until you’re asked to the dance. Seek out constructive criticism – it always helps to hear it, and it will make you less afraid of failing. But don’t be defensive when you get it. In fact, don’t ever be defensive at all – defensiveness telegraphs weakness and insecurity. Develop and nurture relationships with other lawyers (and in general other people). Lawyers and clients like to refer work to people they enjoy being around – not to people who are aloof, patronizing, or know-it-alls. Being sincerely nice and helpful to people will eventually contribute to your success (and make you a happier person!).
SB: One thing that people who know you don’t know about you?
AW: I’m learning golf as a new sport, so anyone who wants to play with a novice should call me. I seem to excel most at the 19th hole.