U of M Law School grad wears variety of hats

By Kurt Anthony Krug

Legal News

Trial attorney Jennifer Belveal boldly declared that she is where she is today in her career because she was never the type to take "no" for an answer.

"When I was a little girl, my parents told me that I could achieve anything I want if I put my mind to it. In first or second grade, I said I wanted to be a lawyer. Why, I don't know - it's always something I wanted to do. My parents thought I'd change my mind the next day and want to be a teacher or a doctor, but I didn't," recalled Belveal, 40, a partner in the Litigation Department at Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn in Detroit.

Originally from Alpena, Belveal currently resides in Canton with Scott, 48, her husband of 12 years, and their two children, Kyle, 10, and Emma, 7. A 1989 alumna of Farmington High School, Belveal graduated with high honors from the James Madison College at Michigan State University in 1992 with a degree in international relations. In 1995, she graduated magna cum laude from the University of Michigan Law School. During her time at U-M, she was the contributing editor of the University of Michigan Law Review, as well as a member of the Order of the Coif, which is an honorary scholastic society whose purpose is to encourage excellence in legal education.

"I always wanted to be a lawyer and that's where I am today. I lucked out by going to a good undergraduate school, which put me in the position to go to a good law school," said Belveal, who has been a practicing attorney for more than 16 years.

While in law school, Belveal interned in the Saginaw County Prosecutor's Office, where she gained a lot of court experience.

"In one summer, I tried more cases than most lawyers do in their careers," she recalled.

This led to her practice area at Honigman, where she's been employed since 1995. White collar defense and investigative work often are practice areas that fly under the legal radar, Belveal said.

"I represent high-profile clients on great cases," she said. "I'm paid to keep their names out of the newspapers and off the evening news. I don't have the same referral base like in some other practice areas because people never hear about my best work. This is a big challenge because so often with professional services, word of mouth is the way to get more clients."

In addition to being a partner, Belveal wears several other hats at Honigman. She is the associate general counsel at the firm - and the first one at that, helping the general counsel in advising the firm's 230 lawyers. She serves as the vice-chair of retention of women attorneys, as well as has been instrumental in the firm's policy initiatives.

"I've redrafted all of our firm's leave policies, which have a big impact on women - and men - for that matter," she said. "We want to be as family-friendly as possible and retain all our lawyers because they are such an important part of the firm."

Belveal is also the chair of the firm's pro bono committee. Ever since she started practicing law, she has handled at least one pro bono case a year.

"When the firm asked me to chair the pro bono committee, it was a great opportunity to make a bigger impact and operate on a bigger scale than one case at a time," she explained.

Belveal's dedication has earned her the respect and praise of her colleagues.

"Jennifer is fearless when facing opposition," said Norman Ankers, a partner at Honigman and co-chair of its Litigation Department. "She has good instincts and the intelligence to match, so she finds creative solutions to problems. Jennifer is successful because she knows what it takes to drive decision making, both in the courtroom and out."

Belveal's commitments don't stop there. Earlier this month, she was elected to the board for Detroit Public Television, which is the viewer-supported Public Broadcasting System member station in southeastern Michigan.

Other recent positions Belveal was recently elected to include the board for the Canton Community Foundation, which assists donors in creating permanent funds to fulfill common interests that improve the quality of life in Canton, as well as southeastern Michigan. She is also a newly-elected member of the board of Giving Hope Women's Circle, a fund that is affiliated with the aforementioned Canton Community Foundation that supports local women and families.

"The duties are very similar. I'm an ambassador for these organizations, and I also help drive their strategic planning initiatives," said Belveal. "Planning for an organization is like preparing for a court case - they're both very similar."

Additionally, she is a member of the Pro Bono Initiative of the Committee on Justice Initiatives for the State Bar of Michigan, the American Bar Association's Woman Advocate Committee, the Women Lawyers Alliance and Inforum, and also serves on the Executive Committee of the Oakland County Bar Association Inns of Court.

And all this is on top of her duties of being a wife and mother, taking her two kids to all of their after-school activities. When asked how she manages all this, Belveal answered: "The only barriers to achieving the things you want to achieve are the number of hours in a day. I find a way to make it happen if it's important - and this is important."

Published: Thu, Jan 26, 2012

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