Gina Barry's Pet Project

Here’s one lawyer who cares what happens to your pet after you’re gone

Published in 2007 Massachusetts Rising Stars — May 2007

It was Gina Barry’s first year as an associate in Bacon & Wilson’s trusts and estates department and she was having a tough time with the adjustment from law school. “I was still learning the business of law, which you don’t necessarily learn in law school,” she says. So in her second year, she hired a business coach. Problem solved.

“One of the things I learned was to look at what I do that I value the most, and what I need in my day to make me as efficient and happy as possible,” Barry says. Working with her coach, Barry restructured her workweek, building in time for marketing, returning client phone calls and handling unexpected emergencies. She developed tricks to force herself to focus on the most important tasks and do those first.

The impact on her practice was astronomical. “In one year, I increased the amount of money I brought into the firm by 31 times. It was absolutely outrageous,” Barry says.

Even better, Barry also found ways to bring her love for animals into her work. She developed a pet estate practice that handles estate plans for anything from family pets to llama farms. “In Massachusetts, you can’t have pet trusts, so we’ve established trusts that benefit the caregiver, and [require] that care be provided to the animal,” Barry says. “Even in health care proxies, we’ll add language that says that there’s an animal at home that is dependent on this person for care, and that if they are incapacitated, arrangements should be made to contact the proxy immediately so they can enter the premises and care for the animal.”

Barry’s pet practice is no surprise––since early adolescence, her life has revolved around animals. The fourth child of a waitress and a welder, born and raised in Holyoke, the kind of town where girls would beat you up in the hall in high school if your outfit was too nice, Barry was an apathetic student at best, pulling B’s and C’s with very little effort. She was more interested in creatures great and small—especially the ones at a nearby farm where she kept a quarter horse named Jasper.

Barry earned a number of champion ribbons and trophies showing Jasper. She also trained horses for the show ring and helped with a therapeutic riding program for the mentally and physically disabled. At the farm, there were baby sheep that she fed with a bottle and a cantankerous goat named Lou, who was so old he clicked when he walked. Once, when Lou was sick, she stayed up all night holding an IV for him.

When Barry was a teenager, Jasper had to be put down––an event that crushed her and taught her about the realities of life. Two days after her 15th birthday, she took a job as a waitress at the Howard Johnson’s where her mother worked––a job she kept part time well into her legal career.

After graduating from high school, Barry attended nearby Holyoke Community College and spent her first years there playing cards in the cafeteria. “Two years into college, I sort of woke up,” she says. “And that was because a fellow I was studying with said to me: ‘You couldn’t get an A if you tried.’ So that semester, I pulled a 3.9.”

Suddenly, Barry saw that school could be interesting. “I realized that you had to read the book in order to get an A––and when I read the book, it was really interesting. And I just sort of blossomed.”

She talked to a guidance counselor, and together they mapped out a plan: Barry would complete community college––which she did, with high honors––then attend Westfield State (from which she graduated magna cum laude), and then Western New England College School of Law (cum laude). “It was like the butterfly of success from the cocoon of apathy,” she says. When she graduated from law school, many of her regular customers from the restaurant attended her party.

Today, Barry serves about 1,000 ongoing clients at Bacon & Wilson, approximately 400 of whom are active at any given time. “What I like most about estate planning is the relief that I see on people’s faces after we’re done,” says Barry, who uses the business tagline I’ll help you rest in peace.

For Stanley Speer, 84, and his wife Paulette, 80, Barry was a godsend. After enjoying good health for most of her life, Paulette had a heart attack. She had bypass surgery and suffered a stroke and had to be put into a nursing home for care. On the recommendation of a friend, Stanley contacted Bacon & Wilson for help in navigating the medical bureaucracy. “Her legal leadership has been superb,” Speer says. “Gina is highly knowledgeable and ethical. She was very compassionate and totally professional. We feel very fortunate for the intersection of our lives, because she’s done such a good job for us.”

Barry still lives in the same two-family house she grew up in, the title for which she co-owns with her parents––a good elder law strategy, she points out. She shares her home with Freddy, a 14-year-old Chihuahua that she rescued from a shelter seven years ago, a cat named Mugsy, birds named Sergio and Valentino, and an “aggressively large” fish.

Barry is also taking steps to establish a horse rescue organization that she plans to name “The Joy of Jasper,” after the horse that captured her heart. “I was devastated by Jasper’s death––I remember crying about it for years,” Barry says. “But then I realized that if Jasper hadn’t gone, I would have just stayed in the barn. Because he left, I was able to go on and blossom and become what I am today, so that now I will have the power and the ability to go back and do so much more for the animals.”

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