William G. Grady’s career handling criminal defense and child protection cases has followed, to borrow from the words of poet Robert Frost, “the road less traveled.”

Back in 1964, his first “real job” was teaching English literature and composition to wayward girls at the now defunct Long Lane School, run by the state Department of Children and Families. From there, he taught at the Middlesex Community College for 22 years. In the middle of his tenure, Grady decided to go law school.

“I was prepared to go to UConn to get a Ph.D. in English and while I was waiting, there was something I read about applying for law school,” Grady said. “I didn’t tell anybody I took the test, the LSAT until I got the scores back. I chose Western New England University School of Law because they gave me some money to go there. And I got in.”

What Grady did with his career after that, handling criminal law and child protection cases for little or no fee, while continuing to teach for several years, earned him the admiration of his peers and judges in the Middlesex Judicial District. Now 76, Grady is in what he calls the “adagio phase” of his life, with plans to close his Middletown law office this summer.

He will go out on a high note. Grady is one of 13 lawyers statewide being recognized by the state Judicial Branch for their pro bono. They will be recognized at the Law Tribune’s Honors Night ceremony in June.

Judge David Gold, administrative judge of the Middletown Superior Court, praised Grady for handling many child protection cases for no fee. The judge told Grady he was known for doing pro bono work, so he was going to be recognized for those contributions by the Judicial Branch.

Not the type to look for “thank you’s,” Grady said he was shocked “in a good way” when he learned of the honor.

“It had nothing to do with a career,” Grady said of his decision to attend Western New England School of Law, where he earned his J.D. in 1983. “I only saw myself as a teacher back then, and I was drawn to the academic study of law,” he said. “I thought law school was great; I was sorry when it came to an end.”

After law school, he found that helping people, especially those who are young, to solve some of the most difficult problems a person can face was as appealing to him as teaching. He also liked standing up in front of a roomful of people and talking. “If I wasn’t a teacher first, I don’t think I ever would have become a lawyer,” he said.

Driven by an intellectual curiosity, Grady started taking on a case here or there while continuing to work as a professor at the community college. After he retired from teaching in 1992, Grady began to take on more cases.

His first real work as a lawyer came after he met an assistant public defender. “He said to me, ‘I have a daughter in your English class and she thinks you’d make a great defense lawyer,’” Grady recalled.

He signed up to handle conflict cases for the public defender’s office in Middletown “If two people were arrested in a drug case or a robbery,” Grady explained, “I would represent one of them. I handled some murder cases that way, too.”

The same sort of happenstance led to Grady taking on a child protection case. He estimates he’s handled “over a thousand” since 1984. He explained that when the DCF seeks to remove a child from the home because of allegations abuse or neglect, lawyers represent the interests of the children or the parents. “I met someone who said, ‘Maybe you’d like to do some child protective work,’ so I did.’”

Grady has also volunteered in the schools, teaching high school constitutional law classes as a guest lecturer and running a moot court program for students in Middletown. But the child protection cases have occupied most of his time in recent years, and he often he finds himself representing parents who are trying to keep their children amidst allegations of neglect.

“These cases, when they go to court, are the hardest,” Grady said. “You’ve got to be able to enjoy helping people who have significant problems.”

He considers it a “win” when he is able to reach an agreement with the state to allow children to remain with their parents. Most times, he is able to convince his clients that they can work out problems with the help of mental health or substance abuse counseling. “These are people who have children and they would like to be able to raise their children,” Grady said. “Sometimes, they just need a little help.”•