In Practice for 66 Years: Patricia Hatry ’51

The indomitable attorney still goes to her office at Davis & Gilbert four days a week to represent commercial and pro bono clients.

Woman in red jacket sitting at computer
Hatry in her office at Davis & Gilbert, June 2017.

Unlike many women of her generation, Patricia Hatry ’51 has never felt constrained by gender. Indeed, when she arrived at Columbia Law School in 1948, she reveled in being one of six women in her class. “It was wonderful,” she says. “I mean coming from Wellesley College, an all girls school, what could be better?”

Hatry has worked for 65 years at the Manhattan law firm Davis & Gilbert and continues to go into the office four days a week and maintain an active practice. Impeccably well-mannered, down-to-earth, and tough as nails, she has represented ABC, Meredith Publishing, Slim-Fast, Weight Watchers, and a host of major ad agencies and other companies throughout her career. An avid cyclist, swimmer and kayaker who spends most weekends at her house in the Vermont woods, she is flinty and formidable enough to have called Roy Cohn’s bluff when she faced the notorious attorney in a 1981 lawsuit.

After graduating from the Law School, Hatry, who was a Harlan Fiske Stone Scholar, worked briefly for a solo practitioner before landing a job at D&G, which then employed seven lawyers. “I was lucky,” she says, sitting in her corner office with a view down Broadway to Times Square. “I got into a small firm that didn’t do trademark work, which became intellectual property, and they didn’t do much litigation, so I took over both departments and built them up. In those days, there weren’t that many women lawyers so it was a great advantage being one. You walked into the courtroom, and the judges were immediately interested in you when you were young and not too bad looking.”

But Hatry was aware she was an exception. “All the women I knew complained about how difficult it was,” she says. “My experience was different.”

Group of men and one woman with drinks
In the “Mad Men” era, Hatry was the only woman partner at Davis & Gilbert.

Hatry vividly remembers one of her first major litigations in the early 1960s, when she represented Slim-Mint Chewing Gum, a diet product, that promised: “Eat What You Want—Yet Lose Up to 3-5-9 Pounds a Week.” The government contended that was false advertising. Hatry and her co-counsel not only found holes in the government’s case but also produced medical experts and Slim-Mint users who testified that the gum worked as promised. It was such a momentous case for Hatry that she named the only dog she ever owned “Slim” after the weight control product.

One of Hatry’s favorite stories is about the time in the early 1980s that she threw the notorious Roy Cohn ’47 out of her office. Representing the advertising agency Doyle Dane Bernbach, Hatry was suing a Cohn client, Avis Flowers—a company owned by rental car magnate Warren Avis—for allegedly not paying its bills. Cohn put in “a ridiculous counterclaim,” she recalls. After depositions, but before the case went to court, Cohn invited himself to Hatry’s office to discuss a settlement.

“First, I kept him waiting,” she says mischievously. “He came in with a dark suntan—he had just come back from Acapulco—and after he talked about that for a few minutes, I said, ‘What type of settlement did you want to discuss?’ And Cohn said, ‘A wash.’ So I shook my head, and said, ‘Why would I want to do that?’ Cohn responded. ‘Because the judge is a good friend of mine.’  And then he turned to my associate, Richard Waxman, and said, ‘Maybe I should talk to you.’ My response was, ‘Not if he values his job,’ and that ended that.”

“We tried the case in front of his friend who took a while to decide but eventually decided the right way,” she says. 

Ethical behavior and respect for the rule of law are integral to Hatry’s practice. “I have always taken the high road. I think it pays in the end. You live with yourself after all,” says Hatry, who serves as a referee for the Departmental Disciplinary Committee for the New York State Supreme Court Appellate Division, which considers matters of censure and disbarment.

Her other extensive pro bono commitments are the Humane Society of New York. and Volunteer Lawyers (VLA) for the Arts. The latter is honoring her with its 2017 S. Jeanne Hall Pro Bono Award at its summer benefit on June 21. “Pat is a motivated and dedicated volunteer who has provided pro bono services to nearly 100 VLA artists in recent years,” says Katie Wagner, VLA’s executive director.

Much of Hatry’s work for VLA involves intellectual property. “For example, there’s a lady who plays music on a chainsaw in the subway,” says Hatry, chortling as she often does while telling stories. “She’s called the ‘The Saw Lady,’ and we registered the trademark on the Principal Register despite its descriptiveness.” She also drafts wills for artists, even though she avoided trusts-and-estates initially because, historically, “that’s where they put women,” she says. “But now many of my friends and other clients need wills.”

Black and white photo of young woman
Hatry in the early days of her 65-year-long career.

Hatry is especially excited by a case of first impression involving The Humane Society of New York and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). With an ADA specialist at D&G, Hatry is defending The Humane Society against a lawsuit brought by a man who claims that its small storefront is not ADA compliant. “He hasn’t been damaged and he’s been satisfied with the care for his pet,” she says emphatically. “If they win against The Humane Society, then they will go after other similar not-for-profits that can barely afford today’s high rents.” 

As hard as she’s worked—“six days a week with no air conditioning” in the early years—Hatry has always found time for hobbies. In addition to her sporty weekends in Vermont, she plays duplicate bridge and is a trained New York City “citizen pruner” and takes care of trees and tree wells on her block. For many years, she was on the board of Opera Index, a not-for-profit that supports up-and-coming singers.

But her first priority was always her two daughters whom she raised as a single mother. Hatry’s smile broadens and eyes twinkle when she talks about her daughters, who have both ended up living rural lives: Lee Ann Warner is a dog trainer who lives in Massachusetts and runs a kennel called Barking Birch Farm; and Pam Nalefski is an equestrian and reading tutor, who leads hiking tours for Walkalong Vermont.

Hatry set a vigorous example for her daughters when they were growing up. “I used to bike to work in my heels and skirts, back when nobody biked,” she says. “It’s a great way to travel—except it takes less time to walk to Midtown now, so I bike everywhere else.”

Does she plan to stop working in the foreseeable future? She pauses before answering. “Who knows?” she says with a hardy laugh.


Posted on June 21, 2017