The Pro Bono Project is honored to announce Jeannie M. Henry as Pro Bono Attorney of the Month. Ms. Henry has taken up the practice of law with verve and has accomplished a great deal in the five years since she graduated Touro Law School. Her extensive background as an educator, school administrator, and a business owner has enabled her to bring an impressive array of skills to her solo law office, which is concentrated in the fields of general practice, matrimonial matters, criminal law, education law, housing and public benefits. In addition to running her own practice, Ms. Henry has been representing numerous clients in matrimonial cases on a pro bono basis through the Pro Bono Project. Ms. Henry is a tireless advocate on behalf of our clients, and it is also evident that she is equally passionate about working to improve the lives of the children of the marriage.
Ms. Henry has a robust legal practice in Ronkonkoma, yet she finds the time and energy to take on pro bono matrimonial cases. She is currently representing five clients who were referred from the Suffolk Pro Bono Project. The most affecting clients to Ms. Henry are those who cannot afford an attorney as they face the difficult challenges of divorce and custody battles. Her earlier experience in working with students and families has affirmed her understanding of how important it is to work towards a resolution that will be in the best interest of the children and the family as a whole. “Divorce can have a devastating impact on parents and their children. Not having the proper legal guidance and advocacy can only compound an already trying circumstance. That is why I see my role as not only a legal advocate, but also as a caring, empathetic supporter who is there to help parents and children navigate through this most difficult time,” said Ms. Henry.
Ms. Henry has had an interesting path leading to the legal profession, which included a number of other substantial careers. She was the first female owner/operator of a logging company registered in the state of New York. Ms. Henry’s construction and logging company was located in beautiful Fulton County, the gateway to the Adirondacks. (She owned her first dump truck at the age of 18!) Her business concentrated on building roads and schools in this rural county. It was also during her early life, that she met and married a dairy farmer. She greatly enjoyed being the non-biological mother to her husband’s seven children. Despite living and working on a busy farm, owning her own company, raising a family which eventually included two more children, Ms. Henry found time to attend community college and then went on to earn her bachelor’s degree with honors in English from SUNY-Albany.
After obtaining her undergraduate degree, Ms. Henry went on to obtain a master’s degree in Teaching English as a Second Language (TESOL). She began teaching high school English and TESOL courses. While teaching, she continued her own education and earned certification from SUNY-Albany as a School District Administrator. Within a very short time, she was selected to serve as an administrator in the Shenendehowa CSD as an English Department Chairperson. Ms. Henry rose quickly in the field of school administration and went on to become a high school principal. Ms. Henry said of her 15 years serving as an educator and school official that her passion for helping students, particularly those who faced the most difficult challenges, were some of the most rewarding and meaningful chapters of her life.
Our Attorney of the Month recalls that even though she loved being a high school principal, she retained the desire from youth to become a legal advocate for underprivileged people. She recounted the moment when she first realized that her life’s purpose was to help others who were not able to help themselves. She was 12 years old when she encountered a turning point in her life. She was inspired by the novel, Knock on Any Door, by Willard Motley whereby the main character, an inner-city youth who lacked opportunity, education, and resources, ultimately made some bad choices that rendered him in trouble with the law. The youth ultimately met his demise when the legal system failed him. It was then that Ms. Henry’s passion was ignited to become a legal advocate to help the most vulnerable and disadvantaged. Though no one in her family had ever graduated from college, she told her mother that she was determined to become a lawyer to help others.
Even though her life seemed to take her in a different direction, she never lost sight of her aspiration to become a legal advocate. So, when the opportunity presented itself, Ms. Henry shifted gears and pursued a law degree at Touro Law School. Ms. Henry explained that she considered several law schools, but it was Touro’s offer of a lucrative scholarship, along with its progressive curriculum of incorporating classroom instruction with real-time exposure to the local Federal and State courthouses, which convinced her it was the right fit. While attending Touro, the law school selected her as the first law student to serve as the Director of Students Helping Students. So while pursuing her law degree, she also dedicated much of her time and effort helping other law students. She graduated in 2013 with seven academic awards.
Ms. Henry’s strong work ethic, coupled with her eclectic life experience, makes her a powerful advocate. She emphasizes how important it is to treat people with compassion and respect. She explains, “The financial and emotional turmoil, which often accompanies divorce proceedings and child custody matters, can leave clients feeling anxious, frustrated, and overwhelmed. I strive to encourage them that we will get through the process together. It is just as important to me how we get through the process as what results are achieved.”
When asked what motivates her to do pro bono work, Ms. Henry credits Mark Twain’s words, “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” Ms. Henry goes further in saying, “Helping others is why I’m on planet earth. I find service to others continues to be the most humbling, gratifying, and purposeful endeavor of my life.”
Having recently assumed the position as Suffolk Pro Bono Coordinator, Carolyn McQuade is moved by Ms. Henry’s dedication to her pro bono work. “It was not until I interviewed her for this award that I realized the true extent of her work ethic. I believe that if history is any indication of future expectations, it is likely that Ms. Henry will continue to focus her energy and generosity in service to families in need.
The Pro Bono Project has been inspired by Ms. Henry’s capacity for hard work and her willingness to take on many cases at once. For her outstanding commitment and enthusiasm in serving people in need, we are very pleased to honor Jeanine M. Henry as Pro Bono Attorney of the Month.
The Suffolk Pro Bono Project is a joint effort of Nassau Suffolk Law Services, the Suffolk County Bar Association and the Suffolk County Pro Bono Foundation, who, for many years, have joined resources toward the goal of providing free legal assistance to Suffolk County residents who are dealing with economic hardship. Nassau Suffolk Law Services is a non-profit civil legal services agency, providing free legal assistance to Long Islanders, primarily in the areas of benefits advocacy, homelessness prevention (foreclosure and eviction defense), access to health care, and services to special populations such as domestic violence victims, disabled, and adult home resident. The provision of free services is prioritized based on financial need and funding is often inadequate in these areas. Furthermore, there is no funding for the general provision of matrimonial or bankruptcy representation, therefore the demand for pro bono assistance is the greatest in these areas. If you would like to volunteer, please contact Ellen Krakow, Esq. 631 232-2400 x 3323.