Vickie Henry became a lawyer because she knew what it was like to need one.
When she was 22, her father died unexpectedly, not long after moving to Tennessee. Settling the estate fell to Henry, the only child of divorced parents and a recent Wellesley grad who was working in the college’s IT department while trying to figure out what she wanted to do with her life.
“One way to know that you don’t have the best estate attorney in the world is if there’s just one executor named in the will with no backup,” she says. “Coincidentally, [the executor] died three weeks before my father did.”
Although Tennessee law allowed Henry to appoint another executor, it also required that the person be a Tennessee resident, and Henry didn’t know anyone else in the state. “So I ended up being co-administrator with the attorney,” she says.
As the only beneficiary, Henry assumed the case would go quickly. It didn’t. It dragged out for more than a year. And it was clear the attorney was not acting in her interests. She was stuck.
“I couldn’t get a new attorney until I didn’t have an attorney, and I couldn’t figure out how to get rid of my attorney because he was the co-administrator,” she says. “Eventually I called the court and explained the situation and said that the only way I saw out of this was if the attorney died — and that was looking like a better and better option, so perhaps they could help me find something that was less dramatic.”
While she was finally able to retain someone else and settle the estate, the original lawyer held her file hostage and then sent her a large bill. “It was my introduction to the law, and it was a nightmare,” she says. “I thought I could do it better.”
More than 15 years later, it’s clear that Henry remembers what it’s like to sit on the other side of the table. A partner at Foley Hoag, she concentrates on intellectual property and product liability issues, doing pro bono work in the area of domestic violence on the side. She is known for providing clear counsel with a compassionate touch. Just ask Maureen Brodoff.
Brodoff, the vice president and general counsel for the National Fire Protection Association, hired Henry to appeal a high-stakes 5th Circuit decision that affected the nonprofit’s ability to raise revenue from copyrighted works — a significant share of its funding.
In addition to Henry’s being “brilliant, talented and fun,” Brodoff says she chose her because “when you’re worried about your organization, it’s good to have a smart, calm person that can help you think through the issues and make decisions. That’s one of Vickie’s great assets.”
It is such capabilities that led Henry in 2003 to a leadership position with the Massachusetts Lesbian and Gay Bar Association (MLGBA), a tenure she characterizes as “all marriage, all the time.” Henry was an appropriate choice since in the area of gay marriage she is what you might call an early adopter.
“Claire [Humphrey] and I have been married a couple of times,” she says, taking a picture out of her wallet. “That’s out at Wellesley College in 1998. We had a religious ceremony and a big party. We just decided that we weren’t going to wait for the law to catch up with our lives.”
When same-sex marriage was legalized in Canada in 2003, they traveled north and got married again. By then, Henry was six months pregnant with their second child, George, who would soon join sister Lucy in their Jamaica Plain home. Biologically Henry’s, both children — now 3 and 5 — have also been adopted by Humphrey.
After months of advocacy on the part of Henry and MLGBA members — they did media interviews, filed amicus briefs and testified in support of gay marriage at the Legislature — the state Supreme Court ruled in November 2003 in Hillary Goodridge v. Department of Public Health that gay people are entitled to marriage licenses under state law. She and Humphrey were the first couple in the state to register their Canadian marriage at City Hall.
“From a legal perspective, Goodridge was an unremarkable case, in that it just recognized that gays and lesbians were entitled to equal treatment under the law, up to and including marriage,” she says. “But from a personal perspective, it was probably one of the most profound decisions I will ever see in terms of its effect on people’s lives. We went to wedding after wedding, and to hear the ministers quoting the decision in ceremony after ceremony was incredibly moving. It just shows you what an impact a single case can have on the lives of everyday people.”
As Henry’s career demonstrates, nice lawyers can finish first. She learned that lesson a long time ago from the jerk in Tennessee, whom she never wanted to emulate.
“That has motivated me my entire career,” she says.