Ayisha Morgan had always wanted to become a lawyer but knew she also wanted to stay closely connected to the business where she worked. To achieve that goal, she knew she needed to be both client facing and an integral part of a company’s day-to-day business functions.
Today, as general counsel of Elite World Group, the largest worldwide model management network, that is exactly what Morgan does: in addition to safeguarding the agency itself, she sticks up for the interests of the nearly four thousand models it represents.
Morgan’s parents heavily influenced her chosen career path—her father is also an attorney, and her mother previously worked in the fashion industry. “Their work was clearly a passion of theirs, and that had a big influence on me,” the GC says.
Eventually, Morgan’s mother decided to transition into psychotherapy, but even that move made an impact on her. In an industry like fashion and modeling, where emotions can run high, empathy is absolutely essential. To Morgan, that means creating a family-like environment where everyone feels seen and understood.
“It’s important that employees and their clients feel comfortable coming to me,” Morgan says. “Many of our models are young, and some leave their families to travel to the US for the first time. We want to ensure they feel taken care of. The same goes for our employees.”
“It’s a fast-paced, high-stress atmosphere. In my role, it’s vital to be the calm in the chaos.”
Morgan began cultivating the skill set that would one day take her to Elite World Group in law school. Villanova Law offered a sports and entertainment track, which enabled students to develop a specialized knowledge of how the law applies to the sports and entertainment field, including talent management. Before graduating, Morgan earned an internship at IMG, where she worked in the legal and business affairs department supporting the sports and broadcasting division and gained experience in commercial contracts, intellectual property, contract negotiations, and talent management.
Though her time at IMG started as a summer internship, Morgan was hired as a junior contract lawyer after graduating from Villanova Law.
IMG was later acquired by Endeavor (formerly known as William Morris Endeavor Entertainment, or WME). That acquisition transformed the company’s structure and gave Morgan the opportunity to move around to other departments, thereby diversifying her experience. She took her first step into fashion during her time with IMG Model’s and took an immediate liking to the work. “It’s a fast-paced, high-stress atmosphere,” Morgan says with a laugh. “In my role, it’s vital to be the calm in the chaos.”
Morgan recognized an opportunity to further grow her skills with the Society Model Management, which is known for its boutique-style strategy and approach to model management. The Society is also the New York agency of the Elite World Group, which operates agencies in all of the world’s most important fashion capitals, including Paris, Milan, and London.
Just a year and a half after Morgan was hired at the Society, the CEO of Elite World Group offered her the chance to become general counsel for the entire company. It was a big jump, but Morgan’s specialization in commercial deals, her experience with employee matters and litigation, and her approachability and rapport with employees gave her the necessary foundation for the role. “I jumped right in with both feet,” Morgan recalls. “I was up for the challenge and couldn’t turn down the opportunity.”
“I am committed to overcoming the pitfalls inherent in the traditional modeling world, and I strive for more transparency and diversity.”
As general counsel, Morgan’s day-to-day is highly varied: she attends to matters related to HR, commercial deals, risk mitigation, trademarks, company litigation, data privacy, and more. Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought about a brand-new set of issues, but Morgan has helped guide the business through those challenges. She is determined to ensure that—no matter where they are working—models are safe while on set and employees are safe while in the office.
In addition to this focus on personnel safety, Morgan has been navigating the immigration issues caused by the travel bans instituted worldwide as a result of the pandemic. “Half of our models are foreign and need work visas in the United States,” Morgan explains. “When the pandemic started, many of them traveled home and were not immediately allowed re-entry to the United States.”
Since the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020, Morgan and her team have been managing all these issues, along with the safe return of employees to the office and managing customer bankruptcies. According to the GC, they will continue to do whatever they can to support their models and enable them to have long-term, sustainable careers—a core value at Elite World Group.
“We want to cultivate more significant opportunities for our models and talent,” Morgan says. “We want them to have long-term credibility and success. My goal is to make sure my employees and their clients are well protected—I am committed to overcoming the pitfalls inherent in the traditional modeling world, and I strive for more transparency and diversity.”
McDermott Will & Emery:
“McDermott Will & Emery congratulates Ayisha Morgan on this well-deserved honor and is proud to partner with her and Elite World Group. McDermott is widely recognized as one of the preeminent law firms in the world.”
–Brian Cousin, Partner, Leader of International Employment Practice