vo-ca-tion /vo-ke-shun/[voh-kay-shuhn] noun—a particular occupation,business, or profession; calling.
William K. Whitner
The goal of this column is to enlighten our readers about the private endeavors of attorneys who are part of the MCCA network. By examining lawyers and their work practices by day in contrast to the personal interests that they pursue outside of the office, it is our hope that this series of articles allows our readers to see the other side of lawyers who manage to pursue unique interests despite their demanding careers.
William K. Whitner
Three and a half years ago, William K. Whitner suffered a serious accident that put his avocation to an abrupt—but temporary—halt. One week before a national bodybuilding competition in which he was scheduled to compete, Whitner was training at his usual Atlanta gym when a leg press he thought was locked at 1,000 pounds (not a heavy weight for him at the time) came crashing down, completely rupturing his left quadriceps and tearing the medial collateral ligaments and the meniscus cartilage of both knees. Badly injured, he was rushed to hospital by ambulance and missed the upcoming contest.
At the time of the accident, Whitner was a senior litigation associate in Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker LLP’s Atlanta, Ga., office. He also was involved in several successful entrepreneurial pursuits and served on nonprofit community organizations outside the firm, as well seriously competing in amateur bodybuilding competitions across the country. In the ensuing years, Whitner has endured surgeries, rehabbed, and continued training. He was made partner at Paul Hastings in 2006, and remained involved in various business ventures. Recently, Whitner received a clean bill of health from his doctors, allowing him to return to more-intensive training. Incredibly, he intends to resume competing sometime in 2009.
Those who know Whitner are impressed by his unrivaled discipline and capacity to succeed in a range of arenas. Sooner or later, his friends and colleagues inevitably ask whether he ever sleeps. His answer is “not a lot.” Typically, he gets by on five or six hours’ sleep a night – less during a trial. “It’s always been that way. My mother says as a kid I rarely needed a nap,” he explains with a chuckle. But the reason for his success, he shares, is a driving urgency to always do his absolute best. “It’s something that comes from within, and has always been with me. I have to prove myself to myself. If I were a ditch-digger, I’d have to be the best ditch-digger out there.”
Looking at Whitner’s desk would not provide an observer with an accurate impression of his practice. Judging from his caseload for one month, it might appear that he only handles class-action lawsuits; during another month, his caseload might indicate that he is trying only breach-of-contract and fraud cases. “Varied litigation practices aren’t as common as they once were,” reflects Whitner, “but at Paul Hastings I am able, fortunately, to do a lot of different things.”
Whitner’s practice focuses on litigation, with a particular emphasis on complex civil corporate matters. His wide-ranging substantive commercial experience includes business torts, securities-fraud class actions, as well as breach of contract, franchise, intellectual property, and entertainment matters. Above all, Whitner likes a case that goes to trial, regardless of the matter involved: “I’m a trial attorney and there is a certain pride in that. The term ‘litigation’ gets thrown around a lot, but a lot of litigators have no desire to be in a courtroom. Trial lawyers arethe attorneys who eagerly go into a courtroom and stand up for their clients.”
Whitner competes at the NPC Junior USA National Bodybuilding Championships in 2004, held in New Haven, CT.
The competitive nature and desire to win over a skeptical audience that draws Whitner to trial law also attracts him to competitive bodybuilding. “I enjoy the stage and showmanship of the contest,” states Whitner. “When I’m flexing and posing, that’s my time before the judge and jury – to persuade them that I have the best physique up there. It’s like giving a closing statement, except without words.”
As far back as he can remember, Whitner wanted to be a trial attorney. Whether as a boy growing up in Greenville, South Carolina, or an undergraduate majoring in government at Georgetown University, his ambition never wavered. As a law student at Yale University, his concept of the profession broadened, but his ardor to represent clients in court never dampened.
After graduating from law school in 1996, Whitner settled in Atlanta, where he found the sophisticated legal market he was seeking. Whitner was hired as a litigation associate at Sutherland Asbill & Brennan LLP. Two years later, he joined Paul Hastings, where he has remained ever since. In addition to practicing law, over the years Whitner has co-owned a long-haul trucking company, a recording studio, and a musical production company. He has also worked with nonprofit organizations focused on mentoring youth and promoting diversity.
av-o-ca-tion /ævo-ke-shun/ [av-uh-key-shuhn] noun — something a person does in addition to a principal occupation, esp. for pleasure; hobby.
At Georgetown and Yale, Whitner played a lot of pickup basketball which led to ankle injuries. To keep in shape, he got into weightlifting. To Whitner’s surprise, his body responded remarkably fast to the workouts. His cousin, a devoted bodybuilder, suggested he take up the sport competitively. Within six months of serious training, Whitner won the title of “Mr. Dixie” (he still winces at the name) in a South Carolina regional contest in 1994.
Whitner won that first competition at 6’1” and 193 lbs. Over the next decade, he went on to win and place in National Physique Committee (NPC) contests throughout the country. He progressed to higher amateur weight classes as he grew to 265 lbs., always keeping a keen eye on the next prize.
“Without an endgame in sight, training is no fun,” notes Whitner. “I’m happiest when I’m under the gun. Training for competition is similar to when you’re in trial prep mode—you clear off your plate and focus exclusively on that one client for two months. The upcoming contest consumes everything. Drinking, eating, sleeping—everything is structured in preparation for succeeding on that one day. And if you mess up even just a little bit, you may not succeed in presenting your body in the best light—and all of your hard work goes down the drain.”
For 14 to 16 weeks prior to competition, Whitner typically increases his daily workout to three hours a day. He alters his diet dramatically, speeding up his metabolism with nine meals of protein and vegetables interspersed regularly throughout the day. “The discipline required for bodybuilding pervades my entire life. I thrive on it,” explains Whitner. “The less amount of time I have to complete a daunting task, the happier I am. I function best when I’m swamped with deadlines and working on numerous things.”
Does bodybuilding give Whitner an advantage in the courtroom? “The intensity required to succeed in bodybuilding carries over into litigation. I’m able to focus totally on the task at hand,” he notes. “It also lends me a physical edge as well. Certain witnesses and opposing counsel can be intimidated by my size. Of course, that works both ways. Sometimes they see a brawny guy and assume he can’t have too much going on upstairs.”
A fairly recently minted partner, Whitner envisions himself successfully inhabiting that role over the next ten years. The prospect complies with his ongoing need to succeed. He also foresees more competitive bodybuilding in the coming years.
“Shortly before the accident, I had exhausted the amateur competitions and was gearing up to compete for pro status,” reflects Whitner. “That opportunity is lost now. I’m a partner in the firm and my family has expanded, so there isn’t time for that. But I can resume competing in regional and state contests. Ultimately, my goal is to get back on stage and compete. I don’t want my career ended by injury. I want it to end on my own terms.” DB
Do you have an interesting pastime that you want to share in this space, or do you know other attorneys whose away-from-work activities might be showcased in this column? Please send your recommendations to email@example.com, and we'll consider your submissions for upcoming issues. Thanks!
Patrick Folliard is a freelance writer based in Silver Spring, Md.
From the March/April 2009 issue of Diversity & The Bar®