Lawyer of the Year William W. Jack remains humble and down-to-earth


by Cynthia Price
Legal News

William W. Jack, CEO of Smith Haughey Rice and Roegge and an attorney for 45 years, says that being chosen state Lawyer of the Year for 2017 came as a big — but welcome — surprise.

The selection comes results from a secret ballot by the 30 attorneys named Leaders in the Law across the state by Michigan Lawyers Weekly, and is given during an awards luncheon that honors all of them.

“You know what is really humbling about it is, you get picked by your peers,” he says, in a tone that makes it obvious he is still in awe. “I was at the luncheon and listening to all these people, and listening to their accomplishments. It was a room full of incredibly accomplished people.

“Pat Geary [fellow Smith Haughey attorney] went down to the  luncheon with me, and he said when they announced my name, the look on my face was priceless.”

At the ceremony, Jack is quoted as saying, “Look, there are 29 other people and dozens more in this room who deserve this every bit as much as I do. Thank you so very much. Having said that, I’m keeping it.”

Jack stays humble despite getting a whole series of awards over the years. In 1998, he received the Service and Mentoring Award from the Young Lawyers Section of the Grand Rapids Bar Association. Long active in the Michigan Defense Trial Counsel (MDTC), Jack won that organization’s Excellence in Defense Award in 2002. He was also the 2009 Michigan Respected Advocate, a prestigious title honored at the State Bar of Michigan annual meeting, chosen by the board  of the Michigan Association of Justice.

A fellow of the Michigan State Bar and American Bar Foundations and a member of the American Board of Trial Advocates, Jack has also been listed in the Best Lawyers in America in Mediation, Legal Malpractice, Medical Malpractice and Personal Injury Litigation, and named the Grand Rapids Lawyer of the Year in many of those areas.

In 2011, the Hillman Advocacy Program (which helps West Michigan litigators polish their skills) gave Jack its inaugural Hillman award. At the time, Varnum partner Ron DeWaard, who headed up the selection committee, said,  “He was unanimously nominated. He’s viewed as ‘the straw that stirs the drink’ — he was around when this got off the ground and has been involved every year.”

“Last year was my last year teaching at Hillman,” Jack says. “I realized I’ve been teaching in the program since before some of the participants were born. To quote my friend [attorney] Pete Dunlap, ‘I’d rather leave when they want me to stay.’”

He says he has also reduced his involvement in other professional associations. As past president of the Western Michigan Chapter of the Federal Bar Association and of the Grand Rapids Chapter of American Inns of Court, former president of MDTC and a past president of the Grand Rapids Bar Association, he has certainly already made notable contributions to the legal community.

The main reason for his decision to cut back is that Jack now serves as the CEO of Smith Haughey, which, though time-consuming. too is something he really enjoys.

“I have the overall responsibility for the administration of the firm, but we have an incredible Chief Operating Officer, Lori Gibson, so she and I work very closely together. We also have directors of Marketing and HR and finance, and they’re all incredible. Someone said to me, ‘In this position you’re more a cheerleader than anything else,’ and I?think I basically agree,” Jack explains, again with  characteristic humility.

Jack, a graduate of Denison University in Ohio who received his J.D. from George Washington University Law School, has been at Smith Haughey his entire career, but his practice has recently undergone a turnaround: he now concentrates
solely on Alternative Dispute Resolution.

He is a member of the National Academy of Distinguished Neutrals, joining other local attorneys. “I get cases from people who have worked with me over the years, mostly word of mouth,” Jack says. “Most cases are in Michigan, but sometimes I work out of state.”

He notes that he is always busy, and as yet has no intention of starting to think about retiring. “I’m planning on continuing to work till the phone’s not ringing anymore,” he comments.

Perhaps when Jack does consider retirement, he will focus on his second career — writing.

He is already the author of four novels: Journey's End, The Dead End of Dying, An Untimely Reversal, and Reaching Past Goodbye, and a fifth is in progress. As noted in the 9/12/2012 Grand Rapids Legal News, the mysteries are page-turners and well-written, but he claims that the last one he wrote (Reaching Past Goodbye) is the best in terms of craft. “On the fourth one, Schuler’s was kind enough to provide an editor. She gave me some great insights, particularly as a lawyer writing for non-lawyers, things like people maybe not knowing what depositions or interrogatories are.”

As usual, he draws attention to someone else’s accomplishments. A woman in Smith Haughey’s IT Department, Debbie TenBrink, helped him with his first few books. “Now she’s gotten one published herself,” he says. “It’s a good read.”

Even though he plans to attend a creative writing workshop at Interlochen this June, Jack’s potential author career will have to wait until he stops having such a good time as a mediator. “I’ll tell you, I’m really loving what I do. I love working with lawyers, and right now I feel really great,” he says.