Bar News - December 17, 2014
Practicitioner Profile: Finding a Niche Through Personal Experience
By: Carol Robidoux
Catherine Tucker understands life-changing moments, not just from a legal perspective, but because she’s walked the walk – particularly when it comes to family matters.
Catherine Tucker huddles on a cold day with her twins, Catie and Curtis.
She never intended to specialize in reproductive law when she entered law school at Suffolk University. She wanted to become a prosecutor, and followed that trajectory – working in Boston until making the move to the New Hampshire Attorney General’s office, where her focus was on litigating family and child cases, often centered on abuse issues.
But when she became the mother of premature twins five years ago, after several unsuccessful in-vitro fertilization attempts, her worlds – as a practicing attorney and new mom – collided.
“I felt initially that having premature twins, my place was with them, and I thought that once they were older, it might make sense to go into private practice. I’d never even done an internship with a private firm, so I took it slowly and dipped my toe in,” says Tucker.
She became involved in an American Bar Association reproductive law group, and things began to click. She eventually established her solo niche practice in Loudon, where she is entrenched in an area of law that, by all measures, is quite new.
In fact, Tucker is the only New Hampshire attorney and one of only a handful regionally who focuses on reproductive law, which ranges from surrogacy and open adoption, to the contractual nuances of egg and sperm donation, and same-sex couple adoption issues.
“I really do work with a broad variety of clients, whether it’s parents looking for help with a surrogate or donor, or on the flip side, with the surrogates or donors. I have also worked with same-sex couples seeking to build a family, or who have already gone through that process, and want some legal protections,” says Tucker.
She notes that, in hindsight, she feels fortunate that her own experience with IVF was without any legal complications.
“When we were undergoing treatment, I did actually read the clinic paperwork and redlined a few things I didn’t agree with, but I didn’t have an attorney review the paperwork. I now recognize that would have been the prudent thing to do,” says Tucker.
Currently there is little statutory or case law to point to when it comes to the uniquely human circumstances that come into play in matters of reproductive law.
“Reproductive law is an unusual type of practice – it’s not like buying or selling a house, something that’s been happening for hundreds of years. Egg donation and surrogacy are extremely new. There are a lot of gray areas and scenarios we won’t be able to give clients an answer for, no matter how much we want them,” says Tucker.
However, that is something she’s worked to fix here in New Hampshire as co-author of a new law (SB353) giving New Hampshire “the single-most progressive law in the country” on surrogacy issues, says Tucker.
“It covers both surrogacy and donor issues, and for example, looks at both traditional surrogacy as well as gestational surrogacy, something that only recently became medically possible,” says Tucker. “We made it to be protective of families and surrogates, to show we have respect for the incredible gift they offer to those otherwise unable to start families.”
Senate Bill 353 reflects advances in assisted reproduction technologies and modernized surrogacy laws sweeping the country. For example, it requires every surrogacy contract to have a provision that describes how decisions will be made for pregnancy termination – and while that’s something good lawyers should be doing anyway in assisting clients, Tucker says, it’s great that New Hampshire has incorporated it into the law.
“It’s the kind of stuff nobody wants to think about. They’re not getting pregnant to have an abortion, but in surrogacy you have to be thinking about these difficult issues. If you match a surrogate with a client with vastly differing viewpoints on abortion, it’s a giant red flag,” Tucker says.
Despite some of the wrenching legalities that arise in her practice, Tucker says 99 percent of what she does is helping people achieve happiness through peace of mind.
“Unlike a typical civil lawsuit where there are no real winners, in what I do, we all win. It’s such a unique area of law. There are no templates out there. You can’t just purchase a template on how to fill out a sperm donor contract. You have to create your own, which means you need to know everything that goes into it – and there are some unique provisions,” says Tucker.
Most of all, she has walked the walk herself, and never diminishes the life-changing possibilities in every case she handles.
“I totally get that awful desperation and tunnel vision that infertility brings. I understand a person might be tempted to make decisions that aren’t right, just because they’re so desperate,” says Tucker.
“My job is to help point out when I see red flags. And while I never imagined this is where I would be, professionally, I know my experience as a prosecutor and litigator translates perfectly to this complex and nuanced practice,” Tucker says.
In that way, she has never felt so fulfilled.
“Reproductive law crosses over with family law, estate planning, border and international law, even tax law. I am really able to translate my experience in litigation into developing contracts that withstand all sorts of legal scrutiny,” says Tucker. “I feel good about what I’m doing, because I know how important it is to get it right for those who come to me seeking help with the most personal of issues.”