Lead Counsel, Litigation
The Alumni Spotlight features Bill Whitman, who serves as Lead Counsel, Litigation for FedEx Ground.
Bill’s interview highlights his passion and esteem for his job, his family and his colleagues. He also shares a few of his favorite things – including Calvin and Hobbes and a golf story that almost sounds too good to be true.
What is the best and/or most rewarding part of your role?
The best part of my role is when we actually take a case to a trial or a hearing. Discovery, document review, motion practice etc. can all be a grind. But, there is nothing more fun in the practice of law than trying a case, and seeing how numerous strategic decisions made over the course of a case and during a hearing play out in front of decision-maker. Being able to first-chair and try litigation cases while at the same time serving as in-house counsel is unique and a combination that makes my job a fantastic one. The most rewarding part of my role is working for a company that, at its core, serves people and possibilities, and is a force for good in our economy – be it transporting COVID-19 vaccines; last-minute Supreme Court briefs; dog food; wine; pandas; etc. Playing a small role in that enterprise and working across departments (from engineering to operations to communications) to achieve outstanding results is extremely rewarding.
What advice do you have for attorneys interested in having a career like yours?
Three pieces of advice quickly come to mind: (1) find a good and loving spouse – practicing law is hard work and nothing could be more important than having support; I am beyond privileged to have a wonderful wife, who both went to law school (sometimes that means I get cross-examined more than I prefer) and who understands the stresses and time commitment of practicing law; (2) find a good mentor – I had the great fortune of starting my career working for an amazing judge and federal district court staff, all of whom taught me more than anybody or any class how to practice law, how to interact with court staff, and how important it is to persuade everyone in chambers, not just the judge; and (3) don’t work so hard that you foreclose opportunities and interests outside the law. On the last point, at FedEx Ground, we tend to hire people that think outside the box, that have varied life experiences, and that are interesting.
How did your time at Bass, Berry & Sims prepare you for your role?
As everyone reading this knows better than I do, Bass, Berry & Sims has an abundance of talented folks, and I worked with many of them. John Golwen is a remarkable attorney who I learned from every day and was a superb mentor. Shep Tate, Michael Brady and Chris Lazarini taught me how to try a case in the world of arbitration. Chris’s closing argument in the Sturdivant v. Morgan Keegan case remains, to this day, the best piece of legal advocacy I have witnessed. Given I currently handle a number of arbitrations, I am certainly indebted to them and the many experiences we shared. And I also was fortunate to work with a great group of associates, some of whom are my colleagues at FedEx today. Colleen Hitch Wilson and Annie Christoff are two of the very best lawyers with whom I have worked, and are without a doubt the absolute best legal writers I know. I learned a tremendous amount from them on how to persuade courts through the written word, which is critical, because it is 95% of what we do in business litigation.
What is your favorite book?
It is hard to pick just one. If it counts, it may be The Authoritative Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson. I have, sometimes unsuccessfully, attempted to pass on my love of many people/things (Notre Dame football, the Beatles, Elizabeth Anscombe, Lord of the Rings, Roger Federer) to my four children; but, fortunately, I have successfully passed on my love of Calvin and Hobbes. So we have spent a lot of time together enjoying this book. But perhaps a compilation of comic strips cannot and should not count as a book. The two most influential books I have read are Dorothy Day’s The Long Loneliness and Thomas Merton’s The Seven Storey Mountain. These are autobiographical pieces of two twentieth-century Americans who led radically different lives — working with the poor in New York and living in a Kentucky monastery — yet came to similar conclusions about the primacy of faith, the enduring wisdom of the Catholic Church, and the importance of community in living a good life. That said, the book that likely remains my all-time favorite, because I think it is the best-written, wittiest and has my favorite characters, is Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.
What was your childhood ambition?
My favorite color as a child was orange. I wanted to be a painter and paint the world orange. Orange, to this day, remains my favorite color. No one was happier than I was when FedEx Ground changed its colors from purple and green to purple and orange!
Name one thing or experience you have had that would be most surprising for people to learn about you.
During my second year of law school, I studied in London for the year. While there, a classmate and I took a train to St. Andrews and entered a lottery in an attempt to play the Old Course. Fortunately, we lost the lottery and, instead, played St. Andrews’ New Course (built in 1895). On the 5th hole, a 180-yard par-3, with a rented 4-iron, I made a hole-in-one. We were playing with a professional photographer who took a picture of me and the photo was published in the annual St. Andrews Trust magazine. Afterwards, after losing the lottery to play the Old Course a second time, my classmate and I camped out all night, first in a line, in hopes of playing the Old Course on the off-chance someone did not show up for his/her tee time. That happened and we got to play at the home of golf.