Despite numerous challenges within and without the legal profession, Queens-based, Vincentian-born attorney Narissa Morris is determined to press on.
“Quite often I have a conflict, in that I may have appearances in different courts, so I would need coverage on such occasions,” Morris, a sole practitioner, with just a secretary, in legal practice on Merrick Boulevard in Laurelton, Queens, told Caribbean Life in an exclusive interview.
“I have developed a relationship with a colleague, who would cover for me,” she added. “So, it’s not as difficult now.”
Additionally, Morris said she has “the responsibility for everything in the office.
“So, sometimes, I have very long hours, especially when there is a deadline to meet,” the Brooklyn Law School graduate continued.
She said scheduling a vacation can also be challenging, stating that she can “only have one week away from the office.”
Morris said she has also encountered biases, because of her race (she’s Black), being a female and coming from the Caribbean.
In law school, for example, she said “they sent those of us from the Caribbean for ‘language courses’, with one of the professors; and, when I asked why, they told me it was because English was not our first language.
“If it’s one thing I had was superior language skills,” Morris affirmed, adding: “The five of us went, because you take help wherever you can find it.”
She said she has encountered other biases while practicing law, but stated that “it is changing.”
She said the New York State Bar Association Bar has instituted mandatory diversity courses for all attorneys.
Morris, who also has training in accounting, said that, when she first decided to become a solo legal practitioner, she taught business courses, as an adjunct lecturer, on week days, at New York City Technical College, City University of New York (CUNY), so she would have “some steady income.”
But, she said, while she “absolutely loved it,” she had to give it up, because “traveling to Brooklyn became too time consuming.”
She, however, said she “may go back to it (teaching) eventually.”
But, despite the challenges — and being “a perennial optimist” — Morris said she works hard to get the best results for her clients.
“I know I’ve done well when I have a satisfied client,” she said. “It’s even better when persons who were on the other side seek me out to represent them on another matter.
“I have been able to make a decent living,” she added.
Morris said that, during the most recent financial crisis in New York, many lawyers in private practice, with whom she was acquainted, were forced to work for larger corporations or companies.
But, she said, her office remained open, stating that she “managed to survive.”
“I am always thankful, and I’m a perennial optimist,” she asserted. “As long as I’m healthy, I’ll be fine.
“There are some persons in the Vincentian community who believed in me from day one,” Morris added. “When you have a community like that, you will succeed. Now, I work mostly from referrals.”
The daughter of two former school principals in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Morris said she was “born into a family dedicated to education.”
She said she started attending elementary school, with her parents, at three years old and entered secondary school, at the St. Vincent Girls High School, considered one of the elite secondary schools for girls in the nation, when she was 9.
Morris completed her secondary education at the adjacent St. Vincent Grammar School, another elite secondary school, where she studied foreign languages.
After finishing secondary school, she taught briefly at the St. Vincent Grammar School, then worked at the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce in the Vincentian capital, Kingstown.
Subsequently, she worked as a flight attendant with the regional air carrier, Leeward Islands Air Transport (LIAT), in Antigua.
Morris migrated to New York in 1981, and worked full-time while attending college in the evenings, with a full course load.
She graduated at the top of her class with an associate’s degree from New York City Technical College with a 4.0 GPA.
Morris continued her studies at Baruch College (CUNY), graduating magna cum laude with a bachelor’s degree and later with a master’s degree in accounting.
Morris said she then decided to pursue legal studies at Brooklyn Law School, where she was a member of the Moot Court Honor Society.
She said she participated in Moot Court competition and was a quarter-finalist in the National Moot Court Health Law competition in 1997.
While in law school, Morris said she worked as a contract specialist with the City of New York, Department of Information Technology & Telecommunications.
She also said she was recruited, while in law school, by the international consulting firm, Deloitte & Touche, and, immediately on graduation, worked there as a tax attorney in the real properties department.
At Deloitte & Touche, Morris said she researched complex legal issues facing clients and produced findings with possible solutions, among other duties.
For 20 years now, she has been practicing law, with private offices at 229-02 Merrick Blvd.
Morris said she handles primarily matrimonial matters, real estate, probate and administration of estates, among other cases.
She is a member of the Queens County Bar Association and the New York Bar Association.
While practicing law, Morris said she serves on several professional committees, and engages in community organizations and activities.
In 2001, she was the speaker at the Girls High School Graduation Class in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and was chosen to present one of 13 lectures at the centennial celebrations of her alma mater in 2011.
Morris is a former chairperson of the Board of Directors of the Friends of Crown Heights Educational Centers in Brooklyn and is the immediate past president of the Brooklyn-based Girls’ High School Alumnae Association, New York Chapter. She now serves as a trustee.
She said she believes in giving of her time and speaks at various community events on a variety of topics.
For young people interested in pursuing law, she advised: “Follow it.
“There are so many opportunities for young people right now, especially in government,” Morris said, recalling watching the William Barr hearings recently and noting that Barr’s entire family works as lawyers with the government — daughters and sons-in- law.
“As minorities, we always have to work harder to shine, and our young people are doing that,” she added. “You can’t be part of the pack.”