Counselor George E. Henries is truly in many ways the son of his father, the outstanding lawyer and long serving Speaker of the House of Representatives, Richard Abrom Henries.
Like his father, George was serious-minded and studious and went on to be a well trained lawyer. He, of course, received far better legal training than his father, who attained his by the apprenticeship method. But so did most of the nation’s eminent lawyers, including Chief Justice J.J. Dossen and may others before him. So did President Arthur Barclay, his son, Associate Justice Anthony Barclay, President Edwin Barclay, former Attorney General and later Chief Justice Louis Arthur Grimes, Edwin and Louis Arthur’s classmate, the historian Abayomi Karnga, former Speaker of the House Benjamin Greene Freeman, former Vice President Clarence Lorenzo Simpson, former Senator, Associate Justice and later President W.V.S. Tubman, former Associate Justice O. Natty B. Davies, former Attorney General, Counselor Nete Sie Brownell, former Solicitor General, Counselor S. Raymond Horace, former Attorney General and Chief Justice James A.A. Pierre and many others. All of these great lawyers apprenticed under legal luminaries before them. It was not until the birth of the University of Liberia’s Louis Arthur Grimes School of Law that it became mandatory to hold a law degree before practicing law in Liberia.
Following his graduation from the College of West Africa in 1956, George entered the University of Liberia andlater obtained his Bachelor’s in Canada before matriculating to the Cornell University Law School, where he qualified, in a far superior setting, in the profession of his father. Cornell is one of America’s top ten universities.
Upon his return he was appointed Assistant Attorney General and later as Supreme Court Associate Justice. He remained in that profession until the 1980 coup d’état when, like most other government officials, he was imprisoned. He reopened his law firm in 1984. At the outbreak of the civil war in 1989-90, Cllr. Henries traveled with his family to the United States where he served as an international lawyer. Before his departure, Head of State Doe invited him back to the Supreme Court as Associate Justice, but he respectfully declined.
In 2009 he returned home as full time C.E.O. of the firm, while also serving, from 2005, again in the footsteps of his beloved father, as grandmaster of the Ancient Free and Accepted Masons, a position which his father had held years earlier.
But this editorial is not intended as a eulogy to Counselor Henries—far from it. We, however, did think it was necessary to give a little historical background, to explain why we thought he was right man to say the right thing to the right people, at the right time and in the right place—his own law firm! For they say charity, like most other virtues, begins at home. And what did Counselor Henries say? He admonished his legal colleagues—not only those at his law firm, but all Liberian lawyers—to be professional and ethical in the practice of their noble profession.
Addressing his staff at the firm’s yearend party last Friday, Cllr. Henries uttered this lamentation: “There is public fear about lawyers amid the poor justice system in Liberia. This fear is riddled with accusations that lawyers receive money and bribe judges to turn justice against the righteous and justify the evildoers.”
Cautioning the lawyers working for him at his 70 year-old law firm, probably the longest surviving in the nation’s history, Counselor Henries strongly warned them against “unprofessional and unethical practices. By conducting yourselves professionally and building trust in your clients,” he told them, “the clients will in turn seek after you, instead of you lawyers running after clients.”
A leading Liberian banker recently made this remark: “Liberia has plenty of highly educated people—‘book people’—but there are two things missing among Liberian professionals today: first, competence; and second, confidence, which is always based on one’s capacity to stand for principle.”
That was what Cllr. Henries was talking about—lawyers who will not enter the trenches of legal malpractice, but live above the fog by sticking to the professional and ethical principles of the trade.
We pray that all lawyers—those working for him and all others—will heed Counselor Henries’ erudite advice and in so doing, elevate the legal profession to the level where it ought to be, the envy of all professions.