New Federal Bar Association President promises more of the same high-quality traditions


legal news PHOTO by CYNTHIA price

by Cynthia Price
Legal News

Bryan Walters has been involved with the Federal Bar Association at national and local levels since he interned for Judge Gordon Quist right out of law school.

So it is no surprise that the litigator and Varnum partner succeeded to the presidency of the Federal Bar Association’s Western District of Michigan Chapter this year.

Walters says he finds the work that the chapter is doing very effective, so he predicts there will be few changes on his watch.

The Federal Bar Association, founded in 1920 in Washington, D.C., consists of more than 18,000 attorneys, including federal judges. The national emphasis is on promoting “the sound administration of justice and integrity, quality and independence of the judiciary,” including representing its members’ voices with a continued presence in the national capital in order “to advance the federal judicial system and promote effective legal practice before the federal courts and federal agencies.”

The Western District of Michigan Chapter adds an emphasis on fostering collegial relationships among its over 300 members. The chapter counts private and public agency attorneys, the U.S. Attorney and the Federal Public Defender for the Western District, and judges from the  U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in addition to Western District judges, among its members.

In its goal of achieving collegiality, Walters says, there is no better model than Chief Judge Robert Jonker.

While he affirms that all of the judges in the federal court and, for that matter, the legal community in West Michigan as a whole, excel in maintaining a collegial atmosphere, Walters says of Jonker, “He models a high degree of collegiality that then becomes a cultural norm and the expectation for working here. He goes out of his way to let lawyers know what his expectations for practicing in this court are, but he is also very approachable. He commits so much to memory — you might’ve only appeared before him once, but he’ll remember who you are, what firm, what case he had with you before... It really makes you feel like there’s a connection and a relationship you’re not going to jeopardize.”

Walters also praises his predecessor, Sarah Riley Howard of Pinsky, Smith, Fayette & Kennedy, and says he is likely to follow her leadership style. “Sarah is a leader by doer and exhibits leadership by being actively involved, kind of rolling up her sleeves. It’s very impressive. I try to work that way as well,” he says.

Accordingly, Walters will throw himself into continuing the two main activities of the FBA Western District Chapter: the well-known Hillman Advocacy Program trial skills training. which has a great degree of autonomy and its own steering committee, and the bench-bar conference, held every three years.

Because the primary focus of the Hillman advocacy is beginning attorneys and advanced beginners, the FBA chapter is starting a pilot program called the Advanced Trial Skills Advocacy Workshop for more senior lawyers. The first session is scheduled for November and will focus on voir dire jury selection — a skill Walters says seriously needs refreshing due to the decreasing number of cases that go to trial. The second will be on direct and cross examination, and the third on opening and closing arguments.

“I’m really excited about it,” Walters comments. “We want to do something for those who have been practicing for a while but are still looking for ways to sharpen or rethink their skills.”
The Bench-Bar Conference comes up again in 2017. It will take place at Mission Point on Sept. 14-16.

Walters says, “The last one in 2014 was just a fantastic event. The executive committee is in the process right now of identifying keynote speakers and programming opportunities.

“Participation by the bench has always been great. It’s a lot of time away, but the opportunity to spend two and a half days working with and discussing significant legal issues with the judges and getting to know them outside of the courtroom has proven highly attractive to most people.”

Before he was asked to join the local FBA executive committee, Walters was involved with the National Bar  and served a four-year term on the editorial board for The Federal Lawyer magazine, reviewing articles and potential articles and doing a small amount of editing.

Walters has spent his entire career at Varnum, after graduating magna cum laude with a B.A. in International Relations, receiving his J.D. cum laude from the University of Michigan (where was contributing editor to the Michigan Law Review) and the internship with Judge Quist.

He practices in the area of business litigation and dispute resolution for a wide variety of industries, including manufacturing, health care, and professional services, whether through early negotiation and mediation or direct litigation in court.

That and his emphasis on intellectual property disputes with trademarks, copyrights, patents, and other trade secrets, find him practicing frequently in the federal courts, locally and all across the United States.

Professionally, he was a Michigan Rising Star in Litigation in 2008, is on the American Bar Association Intellectual Property Litigation Committee, and is a member of the State Bar litigation and appellate sections, having served on the U.S. Courts Committee, from 2012-2013, and on the Grand Rapids Bar Association Litigation Section.

Walters has published many articles, including “Judicial Clerkships and the Salary Wars” in The Federal Lawyer June 2011, and co-founded Varnum’s Western Michigan Federal Courts blog. He also chairs the governing board of Fountain Street Church, and has been a Science Olympiad Coach at East Grand Rapids Middle School.

After Walters agreed to serve on the FBA Western District Chapter’s executive committee, he became the Vice-President of Programs, organizing program activities such as lunch panels and networking receptions, which is something else the chapter engages in.

The chapter also produces an award-winning newsletter, Bench and Bar, and sponsors the Historical Society which publishes Stereoscope.

 The two areas Walters would like to work on are membership and communications with both members and the general public.

“One of our goals is to do better at publicizing events and cleaning up emailing lists, all those types of issues,” he says. “Our dues are quite modest, so we have no paid staff. As a voluntary organization, we try to be really efficient and streamlined in what we do. Ellen Farrar [who works for the court] has been our administration support person for ten years, and she does a great job.”

Those who would like to be added  to the mailing list  may contact Farrar at People interested in joining the FBA should visit and click on the Join/Pay option.