Julia Huston almost didn’t become a lawyer. In fact, for the incoming President of the Boston Bar Association (BBA), her first contact with the legal community did not occur until she entered graduate school – for a degree in education. “I didn’t have a lot of exposure to lawyers growing up: there were no lawyers in my family, for example, or in my community that I knew of,” she said. In some ways, her decision to enter law was an extension of her work in education; as she has pointed out, a lot of what lawyers do is teaching.
A passionate advocate for supporting the disadvantaged, Huston turned her energies from special education, her original career path, to the legal profession. Two decades later, she is one of the top IP lawyers in the state and has held several distinguished positions at legal organizations nationally and in the Boston area. Now she is ready to add on the presidency of the Boston Bar Association and focus her efforts on key priorities, such as expanding civil legal aid in Massachusetts and providing more resources to new attorneys during a challenging economic climate.
- An Education in the Profession
- Career Beginnings
- Introduction to the BBA
- Transition to Foley Hoag
- Legal Services Work and Community Impact
- Presidential Priorities
- Personal Life
- The Closing Statement
An Education in the Profession
Huston received two undergraduate degrees, one in Psychology and one in Special Education, from Boston University; she intended to work with children with severe developmental disabilities and declared a second major so that she could obtain her teaching certification. Upon her graduation in 1987, Huston began her teaching career at the New England Center for Autism, now the New England Center for Children. She attended Harvard’s Graduate School of Education part-time, working toward a degree that focused on social policy and administration.
There, Huston worked closely with lawyers while interning at the Center for Law and Education, a national advocacy organization that represented juveniles incarcerated with no access to special education services. “I was amazed and inspired by the work that they did,” Huston recalled. “It made me want to pursue the law further.”
Kathy Boundy, one of the attorneys with whom Huston worked, described her as “a very intelligent person, a good critical thinker with analytical skills, and a very hard worker.”
“We could count on her being there whatever the hours were and getting that work accomplished,” Boundy added. “It wasn’t just that she could do the work – Julia was focused, deliberate, and an independent thinker. She offered strategy and insight, and she truly was a member of the team. That’s quite unusual for any intern.”
At the Center, Huston took charge of the new database system and was deeply involved in the preparation of class-action suits against two states – an involvement that would alter the trajectory of her career path.
Huston received her Master’s degree from Harvard Graduate School of Education and immediately went on to Boston University School of Law. She graduated in 1992 to begin her career at Hutchins, Wheeler & Dittmar, one of Boston’s oldest law firms.
After three years at Hutchins, Wheeler & Dittmar, Huston transitioned to the boutique IP litigation firm Bromberg & Sunstein as its twelfth attorney at the time. “They had a really good group of people – smart, funny, committed, and collegial. I felt that it was a very positive environment,” Huston said.
Lee Bromberg, a founder and partner at the firm who handled its litigation work, called Julia “a very bright and admirably aggressive young attorney who was always looking ahead to see what steps to take next.” The two worked closely on a number of high-profile trademark and copyright infringement cases as Huston progressed from a young associate to partnership at the firm.
“In our litigation ranks, we had a lot of talented people, and Julia was one of the best,” Bromberg said. “I think she’s also a terrific person – she’s warm and a pleasure to work with. You couldn’t have anybody better taking on the role of president at the BBA.”
Introduction to the BBA
Huston became a member of the BBA immediately upon her graduation, but it wasn’t until she joined Bromberg & Sunstein that she got more involved. Bromberg, Chair of the Lawyer Referral Service Steering Committee, brought Huston into the fold by having her take minutes at the Committee’s meetings – a small first step that would turn into a meaningful involvement.
“Through the BBA, I met people at different firms, many of whom I still keep in touch with, and I saw the value of getting to know colleagues in the legal community in a setting divorced from client representation,” Huston said. “The personal relationships I’ve formed are extremely important to me and have allowed me to be part of a larger network. Working with the BBA has also enabled me to get to know some of the judges in our courts, which, again, is very valuable – it really personalizes the process.”
After her work on the Lawyer Referral Service Steering Committee, Huston’s involvement developed naturally as the BBA saw that she offered talented leadership to the organization. “Julia has qualities that we value highly at the BBA: she’s hardworking, thoughtful, and willingly gives her time to see projects through to the end,” said Richard Page, Executive Director of the BBA. Huston went on to co-chair the Delivery of Legal Services (DLS) and Litigation Sections, as well as the IP Litigation Committee and the Law Day Steering Committee. She also joined several project-based committees and study groups. By 2010, she had already served a three-year term on the Council and was rejoining as its Secretary.
Transition to Foley Hoag
That wasn’t the only professional growth happening in Huston’s career. In 2009, the founders of her firm parted ways, and she transitioned to Foley Hoag to chair its Trademark, Copyright and Unfair Competition Practice Group. Although several firms reached out to speak with her at that time, Foley Hoag’s was the only call she returned.
Vickie Henry, then a partner at Foley Hoag, was the person who initially reached out to Julia to suggest that she consider a position at the firm. “Wise firms are always on the lookout for terrific lateral talent,” Henry said. “I knew that Julia had a stellar reputation professionally and that she was a go-to person for trademark and copyright.”
At Foley Hoag, Huston handles high-stakes intellectual property and business litigation cases and provides a full range of services to clients in connection with their valuable intellectual property, including litigation, strategic transactions, portfolio development, and counseling.
According to Lon Povich, general counsel for BJ’s Wholesale Club who has known Huston as a client, Huston brings several layers of professional excellence to her work. “I think she’s an outstanding lawyer because she’s a master of her subject matter with excellent client service,” he said. “At the same time, she’s a great leader; and last but not least, she’s a wonderful person. You could be a great lawyer without that last part, but Julia’s personality makes her really ideal to work with.”
An attorney with keen instincts and great expertise in her field, Huston also brings her sense of humor to the work. Vickie Henry recounted a story about a presentation Huston made regarding a trademark infringement case involving beer – for which Huston surprised the attendees by distributing samples of beer. “Julia likes to look for the joy in life,” Henry said.
Legal Services Work and Community Impact
Throughout her career, Huston never forgot her early roots in education and her goal to give a voice to those without proper representation. After joining the legislative committee of the Equal Justice Coalition (EJC) – a collaboration among the BBA, Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC) and the Massachusetts Bar Association to promote civil legal aid – she began coordinating law firm participation in the annual Walk to the Hill event and ultimately assumed the position of EJC Chair.
Lonnie Powers, Executive Director of MLAC, spoke highly of Huston’s leadership skills at the EJC and as President of Greater Boston Legal Services (GBLS), for which she served from 2008 to 2012:
“Being the Chair of a nonprofit organization can require a delicate balance between wanting to know what’s happening on a daily basis and not being intrusive. As President, Julia got to know the people within the organization on a personal level so that she could understand what was going on and be supportive – but did so in a way that was appropriate for a board member. Very few people can do that as well as she did. That speaks both to how much she cares about individuals involved in delivering legal services as well as clients, and her political skills and understanding of her role as the chair of the board.”
“Besides believing in the mission of GBLS, Julia also believes in the legal community coming together to do good and thought that was very important, especially in a law firm environment,” said Jack Ward, Associate Director of Finance & Development at GBLS, adding that Huston made sure everyone on the Board felt that they had a voice and was very strategic about marshalling resources to move the organization forward.
Active as well in the Women’s Bar Association (WBA), for which she served as President from 2007-2008, Huston was concerned with making the profession more diverse and inclusive for all. A member of a task force organized by Justice Fernande Duffly (Supreme Judicial Court), the two worked to create more transparency regarding the number of women partners at law firms; they also worked together to counter subsequent pushback from the law firms. Ultimately, Justice Duffly said, “I saw Julia’s leadership and her passion for the profession as a whole, including the judiciary, and making it a diverse, inclusive place that would make it an important contributor to democracy.”
Though Huston’s career path took her to IP law, she always found time to round out her professional repertoire by giving back to the community through her many other activities. “These outlets allow me to engage in some of the civil rights-related work that drew me to law in the first place,” she said.
This commitment to civil legal aid and legal services funding is the major focus of Huston’s BBA presidency. While a complex issue to handle, her background in legal services and determination to bring about change combine to raise the chances for success.
Huston is not without ammunition in this endeavor: the BBA’s Statewide Task Force to Expand Civil Legal Aid Funding will be releasing its report within the first months of Huston’s presidency. Chaired by BBA Past President J.D. Smeallie, the Task Force has dedicated the past year to examining the unmet need for civil legal aid across the state and determining the most cost-effective ways to meet this need; the report is expected to have a significant effect on the discussion surrounding legal services funding.
“The Task Force report is the number one issue for me, in terms of the intersection of the BBA’s work and my personal commitment. Frankly, there couldn’t be a better match,” Huston affirmed. “I have worked on a number of initiatives concerning civil legal aid and its funding. The fact that the Task Force is releasing its results just as I am coming into the role of President is very fortunate for me, and I am committed to leveraging those results to get as much value and impact as we possibly can from their excellent work.”
Huston sees the BBA as a place where all parties invested in the issue of legal aid can brainstorm and work together to strengthen the entire justice system. “The BBA is recognized as an honest broker, as well as an important voice on Beacon Hill on issues of access to justice. It safeguards the administration of justice for the courts, especially in terms of funding.”
She also believes that the BBA stays ahead of trends in the legal community, including the issues new lawyers face, saying: “It’s more of a challenge for young lawyers to get training, mentorship, and support than in the past. The BBA has sought to fill that gap by providing programs and resources for attorneys who are practicing but who don’t have the resources that were once available through law firm training.” Huston cites this as another priority for her presidency.
The issue of mass incarceration is a specific area of interest to Huston. She has been reading The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, and its statistics about the rates of minority imprisonment are disturbing to her. “We have a real problem in this country,” she said. “There are a number of things we as lawyers can do to alleviate these very unfair policies. Right now, recidivism rates are very high, and the rules that apply to prisoners returning to the community are draconian. The BBA opposes mandatory minimums and works to prevent wrongful convictions – we will continue to do everything we can to prevent people from entering the criminal justice system unless they truly belong there.”
Huston’s experiences in education and legal services inform her approach to the BBA presidency: a leadership style that seeks to bring different constituencies to the table to work on broad issues facing the entire legal community and to protect the underrepresented.
Huston’s personal life revolves around her family, who support her work and community involvement. Art created by her five-year-old daughter Skye – named by her husband, a private pilot passionate about flying – lines the walls of her office and adds a personal touch.
“She’s starting kindergarten this year, so that’s sure to be an adventure,” Huston laughed. “We’re also starting Daisies, the first level of Girl Scouts, in October.”
Together, Huston and her daughter sing in the family choir of the Unitarian Church in Newton that they attend, which Huston praises for being an inclusive community of social justice advocates who bond over impact work. Huston even co-directed their Christmas pageant last year – an impromptu decision to jump in and help that turned out to be a lot of fun.
In general, Huston loves to travel, citing China as one of her favorite places that she has visited and also mentioning a memorable trip to Tasmania. “These places are far off the beaten path, which is the fun of going to a different place – seeing the local wildlife and a whole new culture.”
But perhaps her biggest travel challenge has been a recent trip to Disneyworld. “I didn’t realize that you had to plan so many months in advance,” Huston said. “I was naive enough to think that you could just show up! Fortunately, some friends set me straight, and we had a great trip. Skye had never been to Disneyworld before – for a five-year-old, that’s a blowout vacation.”
Her home life is rounded out by a long-haired Weimaraner puppy named Tesla who they’ve had for a year – Huston’s daughter Skye took her first steps while chasing after a relative’s dog, so they decided they had to have one at home, too. The joys of raising a puppy and a toddler at the same time are mixed, but as Huston admitted good-naturedly, “everything is a stage!”
The Closing Statement
What is most striking is the effort and passion that Huston pours into everything she does, from her work at Foley Hoag to her community involvement and, most of all, her family. “It’s all about what you give back,” she said. Nurturing the growth of others comes naturally to her, and it is clear that Huston intends to similarly lead the BBA with thoughtful care and collaboration.
“My early involvement in the Delivery of Legal Services Section is what connected me to GBLS and the EJC,” she reflected. “That was my doorway to other parts of the Boston legal community where I formed strong connections. All roads do lead back to the BBA.”