After graduating she was accepted to the Michigan State Bar, but moved the same year to Washington D.C. to take a position in the U.S. Justice Department. She transferred from there to the Office of Price Stabilization before leaving to raise a family. She later resumed private practice in Washington and Chicago, specializing in trademark law.
President Jimmy Carter appointed Nies to the U.S. Court of Customs & Patent Appeals in 1980. That court was moved into the jurisdiction of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in 1982. She was promoted to chief judge in 1990 and took senior status in November 1995.
Nies was badly injured in a bicycle accident at Henlopen Acres, Delaware. She died at Beebe Hospital in Lewes, Deleware on her 71st birthday. She was buried at Arlington National Cemetery. She was survived by her husband, John Dirk Nies, three children and two grandchildren.
- "Helen W. Nies, 71, Former U.S. Judge" obituary (August 11, 1996) The New York Times
- "Helen Wilson Nies" at the Biographical Directory of Federal Judges