By Jo Mathis
For the past 10 years, Walter H. Bentley III has been an assistant prosecuting attorney at the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office.
Then he realized he wanted to practice areas of the law other than criminal.
"As a prosecutor, people would call who needed the help of a good lawyer that they trusted and they wanted to hire me," said Bentley, who talked to The Legal News recently after he participated in a tour of Washtenaw County courts along with other lawyers new to the area. "Prosecutors are not allowed to take on clients outside of work, so I saw a desire from my end as well as a need for other people."
That's why Bentley will hang out a shingle on July 9.
"It's a big step to leave a steady paycheck and benefits and all those kinds of things, but I'm really excited about it," said Bentley, whose focus will be family law, probate, wills, and general lawsuits.
He said he's getting the word out by using social media and pretty much telling everybody he knows.
"My wife is from Ann Arbor, so I come to Ann Arbor quite a bit to visit extended family and I've made a lot of friends in Washtenaw County, so I want to serve the people in that area, too," said Bentley, whose office will be not far from his house in Southfield.
Bentley, 42, grew up just outside of Atlanta. After earning his bachelor's degree in mathematics from Hampton University in 1992, he joined the U.S. Navy and spent the next several years as a naval cryptology officer. Then he worked as a supply manager at Daimler Chrysler and moved to Michigan.
But the auto industry was in such turmoil, he was soon thinking of his next move. A good friend had been trying to convince him to go to law school for years.
"Because I always had the desire to be an entrepreneur, I researched my options," he said. "I learned that Wayne State had a combined program to earn both degrees at the same time and decided to do it."
He applied to both schools separately and got accepted at each.
"I am really glad I did, as law school does little preparation for the business side of running and managing a law firm," he said. "Having both degrees, I feel more comfortable venturing out with my new firm."
In 2002, he earned both his MBA from Wayne State University and his J.D. from Wayne State University Law School.
One of his more memorable cases as a prosecutor includes a homicide in which a jealous ex-husband killed his ex-wife's new boyfriend years after the marriage was over. They had kids together, and the defendant had provided very well for them after the divorce.
"I saw a wife conflicted because her children could no longer have the same relationship with their father who was now incarcerated but she wanted him to pay for ending the new life she had started," he said. "He plead guilty to a significant prison term but it was a bittersweet victory. It taught me that we do our best in the legal field although sometimes nobody truly wins."
Another case involved a rape and attempted murder case.
"What made the case memorable other than the horrible facts was the process of picking a jury," he said. "When asking women if they had ever been the victim of sexual assault it was stunning and depressing to find out this crime has occurred to so many women. I saw it over and over again in other sexual assault cases. It made me realize just how prevalent sexual assault is in our society."
He knows he's going to miss helping crime victims.
"I found that sometimes people were just really surprised at just how good an attorney they had working for them," he said. "Even though you don't get to choose your attorney when you're a victim of a crime."
He and his wife, Stephanie Nixon Bentley, a graduate of Huron High School in Ann Arbor and a paralegal at a small law firm, have been married six years. Bentley's stepchildren are 25 and 19.
While he grows his new practice, Bentley will also continue his three-year-old tutoring business Bentley Prep, LLC (Bentleyprep. com), which is growing faster than he expected. Bentley likes to tell people he grows lawyers. He prepares them for the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) and helps with the onerous law school application process.
"It's especially rewarding because most of my students are first generation lawyers, some of whom have even been first generation college graduates," he said. "Once they graduate from law school I prepare them for the bar exam which is the last hurdle to practicing law. It's very rewarding to see former students in the courthouse, representing clients and nothing is more rewarding then when I see them out with friends and/or family and they just want to say, 'Thank you.'"
Published: Wed, Jul 11, 2012