Sustaining HOPE: Attorney serves on board of fund dedicated to helping LGBT community


 By Steve Thorpe

Legal News
Attorney Henry Grix is proud of his work as an attorney on estates, trusts and non-profit law. But he also has a special place in his heart for “HOPE.”
The HOPE Fund, of which Grix is a board member, was created as a grant making and technical assistance program by the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan to help fledgling organizations devoted to helping the lesbian and gay community.

“Every year grants are awarded to different organizations, such as Affirmations in Ferndale or Equality Michigan,” Grix says. 

Grix, of Dickinson Wright, was recently selected as Best Lawyers in America 2014 “Lawyer of the Year” for Non-Profit/Charities Law.

Only a single lawyer in each specialty in each community is honored as the “Lawyer of the Year.” Best Lawyers is the oldest peer-review publication in the legal profession.

“You get an email saying you’ve been chosen,” Grix says. “You don’t campaign for it and don’t know it’s coming. You get voted on by peers and I’m pleased to have been recognized.”

Grix has served as chair of the State Bar of Michigan’s Probate and Estate Planning Section and Taxation Section, the largest section of the organization, and the American Bar Association’s Real Property, Probate and Trust Law Section. 

He has also been involved with the Probate and Estate Planning Advisory Board of the Institute of Continuing Legal Education, the Legal and Financial Advisory Network of The Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan and the Financial and Estate Planning Council of Metropolitan Detroit.

His community involvement includes work with the Detroit Institute of Arts, but the organization that he focuses on the most is the HOPE Fund. 

In 1994, the Community Foundation saw a shortage of human and social services for the LGBT community. Few mainstream agencies offered gay-friendly programs, and those that existed were underfunded and understaffed.

“Almost 20 years ago there was a ‘challenge grant’ provided by a foundation in New York that offered to match money raised for LGBT issues,” says Grix. “The Community Foundation stepped up to the plate and said, sure, we’ll go for this. Twenty years ago it was a real challenge.”

In 1995, the $43,000 challenge grant helped launch the initiative. Since then, more than 125 grants have been distributed, resulting in an array of services, programs and organizations for southeast Michigan’s LGBT community.

“I’m on an advisory board that both reviews grants and raises money,” Grix says. “The Community Foundation has thousands of funds and this is one of them. We review the grants and say, ‘yes, do that’ or ‘do a little bit less or a little bit more’ and then ultimately the Community Foundation board must approve it.”

Grix believes the next big challenge for HOPE is getting more young people engaged with the organization so its founders can pass the baton to a new generation.

“We’re 20 years old now and we have to get younger people involved,” he says. “It’s a challenge all charitable organizations face. There’s a generational divide. Is there still a need for this? How do young people see this? So we had a reception recently for people in their 20s and 30s trying to build support.”

It’s not surprising that his focus on philanthropy has a local flavor. Grix has deep roots in Michigan.

“I’ve been here my whole life,” he says. “I was in the third graduating class at Brother Rice High School when it was a brand new school. Then I went to the University of Michigan.” 

But that doesn’t mean he isn’t a man of the world.

“I was in the Peace Corps in Liberia for a couple years and then went to Japan for a year, but then came back to law school at U of M,” he says.

After law school, Grix continued to stay close to home at Dickinson Wright. 

“In the old days, you started out (as a lawyer) as a kind of apprentice,” he says. “I came to a big law firm because I thought I would have good teachers and I did.”

He started out in banking law and Dickinson Wright required new attorneys to rotate through different practice areas. Grix found that he liked working with individuals rather than companies and he gravitated to trusts and estates.
“I found that I liked it and the firm actually had a need for a young lawyer in that area,” he says. “Young lawyers are typically interested in litigation and I was a lousy litigator.”

The work in estates and trusts naturally led to developing an expertise in charity law. As clients give to non-profits and charities, a lawyer has to also be knowledgeable about that area of law.

“The clients asked questions and I needed to teach myself the answers,” Grix says of the learning process.

Once considered a fairly staid field, estates and trusts have also become more complicated with issues like in vitro fertilization and same sex marriage changing the notions of who is or is not a descendant or relative.

“The practice once had considerable stability but has lacked that for a while,” Grix says. “We would adopt a new probate and trust law code and there would be five to 10 years between major revamps. We have a very collegial practice area and one of the great satisfactions of this field is working with other lawyers.”


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