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‘I wanted to learn from the best,’ Healey says of her early years of private law practice

Years before Maura Healey embarked on a public service career, she was a junior attorney in the litigation department of WilmerHale, representing private clients.

Maura Healey while she worked for the WilmerHale law firm.WilmerHale

She traveled to work on the Green Line and logged long hours at the office, the newcomer among a team of ambitious lawyers. The clients she represented included large corporations, business mogul Steve Belkin, and even the Red Sox.

Years before Democrat Maura Healey embarked on a public service career that resulted in her becoming the first woman and the first openly gay person elected Massachusetts governor, she was a junior attorney in the litigation department of WilmerHale in Boston helping to represent a variety of the firm’s private clients.

It was a job for hard workers, team players, and people eager to learn, but didn’t come with the spotlight, power, and influence Healey inherited when she was elected attorney general.

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“There are not a lot of Perry Mason moments if you’re a junior or midlevel associate,” said Jonathan A. Shapiro, a partner at Goodwin Procter in San Francisco who worked with Healey at WilmerHale. “These are difficult jobs. There’s a lot of blocking and tackling. The Perry Mason moments are few and the senior guys and gals get them.”

Still, Healey said in an interview, the private legal work proved to be a training ground for her future as a leading deputy in the attorney general’s office and ultimately the state’s top lawyer.

“It was a great place to learn. It was definitely challenging at times,” Healey said.

Her career at the firm unfolded over a decade, beginning in 1997 when she worked there as a summer associate following her second year of law school and was offered a chance to rejoin the practice once she earned her degree.

After graduating from Northeastern University School of Law in 1998, Healey clerked for US District Court judge in Massachusetts, A. David Mazzone, for a year and then returned to the firm, which was then known as Hale and Dorr.

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Healey said the firm had a reputation for employing topnotch litigators and occupied an honorable place in history for its representation of the US Army in 1954 during televised hearings that were credited for bringing down then-US Senator Joseph R. McCarthy and his sensationalized campaign to uncover communists in the US government.

“I wanted the opportunity to learn from the best,” she said.

Over eight years, Healey rose to the rank of junior partner, and in that time she played the role of advocate for the defense, helping the firm represent large corporations against legal actions brought by shareholders, consumer groups, and local governments. The clients included a pharmaceutical company that was among dozens sued over pricing in a sprawling class-action lawsuit, the window-treatment retailer Blinds to Goin a contract dispute, and Xcelera.com, an Internet company whose stock market rise and fall stood out even among the legions of ignominious collapses during the dot-com bust, court records show.

She said she also learned the basics of practicing law, sometimes relying on the firm’s administrative staff to teach her procedures that weren’t taught in law school.

“I felt at times that I didn’t know what I was doing. ... There was lot to learn.” she said.

Shapiro said Healey was dependable, a good teammate, and produced exceptional work.

About two years after Shapiro became a partner at WilmerHale, he said he relied on Healey to draft a complicated submission to the US Securities and Exchange Commission.

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“I just remember asking her, ‘How’s the draft? Is it great?’ She said, ‘It will be,’ ” Shapiro said. “The reason I remember it is not because I thought she was going to be the future governor. I was under pressure. … She delivered exceptional work, let’s just say under brutal or suboptimal circumstances.”

Attorney Joan A. Lukey, who mentored Healey at WilmerHale, said the firm represented large companies, usually as defense counsel, in cases that unfolded over several years. The experience broadened Healey’s perspective, gave her an understanding of business, and prepared her to pursue cases against corporations in the attorney general’s office, said Lukey, who now works for Choate, Hall & Stewart LLP.

“She knows and knew then that business and the people who run them aren’t inherently bad,” said Lukey, who led the finance committee for Healey’s 2014 campaign for attorney general. “I think it was a benefit to Maura when she switched over to the AG’s office. She knew what to expect.”

Healey said her experience defending corporate clients in private practice helped her learn to conduct investigations and develop litigation strategies at the attorney general’s office. That background factored into her pursuit of the first lawsuit targeting members of the Sackler family, owners of the OxyContin manufacturer, Purdue Pharma, for their role in the opioid crisis, she said.

“It really helped me identify and shape the way in which we wanted to pursue justice for that office,” Healey said.

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Some of the cases she worked on were sports-related, touching on her background as a professional basketball player. She helped on a lawsuit brought by the Red Sox against Doug Mientkiewicz to recover the baseball that was in play when the team won its first World Series in 86 years in 2004. The ball ultimately went to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Healey was also among the WilmerHale lawyers who represented Belkin during a long legal dispute over his stake in the Atlanta Hawks and Atlanta Thrashers.

Attorney Jack Fabiano, who oversaw the baseball and Belkin cases, said he interviewed Healey when she initially applied for a position at the firm and liked her right away.

“I thought she was a down-to-earth person who wasn’t in the academy white tower world,” Fabiano said.

Louis W. Tompros, a partner at WilmerHale and lecturer at Harvard Law School, said Healey was among the first people to welcome him when he joined the firm. He said he worked with her on an unsuccessful challenge to the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy brought in 2004, a precursor to her experience in the AG’s office targeting a federal law that denied marriage rights to same-sex couples.

Healey mentored younger lawyers, Tompros said, and helped them improve their writing.

“I definitely remember sitting in her office with marked-up pieces of paper in front of both of us and talking it all the way through,” he said.

Karen F. Green, a retired Massachusetts Superior Court judge, said Healey worked with her in 2002 on an investigation into management failures and political patronage at the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department. At the time Green was a lawyer at WilmerHale, which was helping with the investigation pro bono. Even then, Healey was “very public interest oriented,” Green said.

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Healey left WilmerHale in 2007 to lead the civil rights division at the attorney general’s office. Shortly after her departure, Green said she ran into Healey at an event.

“I remember like it was yesterday,” Green said. “I remember thinking how excited she was and how much she was enjoying the work.”




Laura Crimaldi can be reached at laura.crimaldi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @lauracrimaldi.