© 2012 The Texas Lawbook.
By Natalie Posgate
Staff Writer for The Texas Lawbook
Former WFAA-TV Channel 8 investigative reporter Valeri Williams was sued six times during her award-winning career, and she won every time.
Williams is no longer the client to the defense lawyer; she’s the one doing the legal counseling.
After 20 successful years in journalism, Williams wanted a change of pace. She decided to use her analytical reporting skills elsewhere and enrolled in law school.
New York-based Wilson Elser Moskowitz Edelman & Dicker has announced that Williams has joined its Dallas office as an Of Counsel. Her practice focuses on employment law, labor law, general litigation and complex commercial litigation.
Wilson Elser also announced that veteran higher education administrator and lawyer James Sears Bryant recently joined the firm as an Of Counsel.
Bryant is a former lawyer at the St. Louis-based law firm Stolar Partnership, where he was chair of the higher education practice (more on Bryant below).
Williams, who was most recently an associate at Figari & Davenport, is well-versed in asking tough questions and knowing how people will answer, which provides her clients services beyond the legal spectrum.
“There’s a lot of overlap with these prominent clients who also need savvy media advice,” Williams said. “It’s an unusual way to look at the law. A lot of lawyers are afraid of the media; while there should be a healthy respect, you don’t have to be afraid… I have this unique skill-set to navigate media assaults during litigation.”
Before Williams made her career switch, she produced enterprise pieces for WFAA-TV Channel 8 in Dallas on two separate tours. She also worked at ABC News as an Atlanta-based correspondent. She is a two-time recipient of the prestigious Edward R. Murrow Award, has two Certificates of Excellence from Investigative Reporters & Editors and an Emmy.
Williams said that she decided to leave journalism because she didn’t agree with the direction it was going.
“It had shifted so much,” she said. “It’s becoming more entertainment [oriented] and a regurgitation of news rather than developing stories.”
Before beginning her reporting career, Williams was accepted into law school at Baylor. Because she studied journalism in undergrad, she had to make the decision between becoming a journalist and a lawyer. She decided to go into journalism.
After she left WFAA, Williams decided to revisit the legal route and, in 2008, she graduated cum laude from Southern Methodist University’s Dedman School of Law.
During Williams’ time in law school, she ran her own media consulting firm – another form of experience that she said helps her in her work today as a lawyer.
While running her own firm, Williams worked with large corporations and prominent individuals who were targets of media investigations or bad image campaigns. She said that the clients she worked with almost never knew how to react properly to the story.
“It’s always the cover-up that kills someone,” Williams said. “It’s not the bad facts; it’s the cover up or not taking [responsibility] for wrongful action, even if it was accidental. I taught them public responsibility.”
Since becoming an attorney, Williams has represented clients in cases of trade secret misappropriation, employment discrimination, breach of contract, RICO and title insurance fraud.
In her current practice, Williams said that one of the hot trends she is seeing in employment law is increased activity in regard to trade secrets and proprietary information.
“For the first time, corporations are seeing what types of issues should be considered proprietary and are protecting that information,” she said.
Williams has also become very familiar with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission this year.
“Texas has the highest number of EEOC complaints in the nation,” Williams said. “One in 10 complaints [in the country] comes from Texas.”
James Sears Bryant
Bryant, who was with the Washington, D.C. firm Dow, Lohnes for nearly 10 years, represents the interests of higher education institutions and non-profit organizations at Wilson Elser.
While Bryant enjoys keeping his litigation skills sharp, he said his new job also consists of work focused toward financial research and helping universities with grants.
“A lot of the work I do isn’t specifically legal,” he said. “I’m usually engaged by presidents, CFOs or provosts to help solve a problem that leads to some legal pieces.”
Bryant attributes his higher education background to his ability to work in areas that are beyond the legal role of an attorney.
His previous administrative roles include assistant to the dean for external relations at Amos Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College; special counsel to the University of Iowa Board of Regents; general counsel to the Phillips Theological Seminary; and general counsel, treasurer, acting/interim/vice president for business and legal affairs, and chief executive officer at Union Theological Seminary in New York.
On behalf of his broad base of clients, Bryant has addressed NCAA issues and related litigation, governance issues, accreditation projects, institutional development, financial and organizational restructures, student affairs, complex internal investigations and the defense of institutions charged with a variety of infractions.
His own education is just as substantial. Like Williams, Bryant has a law degree from SMU Dedman. He also has a doctorate in higher education from the University of Pennsylvania, a Masters of Arts from Dartmouth College and Brandeis University and a Bachelor of Science from Phillips University.
He was also an Assistant District Attorney in Enid, Okla., a district judge for the Northwest District of Oklahoma and served in the Oklahoma House of Representatives.
Bryant said that his diverse background and experience from the government and administrative side, legislative side and judicial side of the law helped him become a more responsive lawyer for his clients.
This year, Bryant’s practice has been helping universities adjust their financial models to the new demographic of the average student.
“The hot issue in higher education is that the industry is trying to grapple with financial pressure,” he said. “Universities are continuing to adapt to different student bodies than they’re used to.”
Bryant said the traditional student body is full-time, lives in the dorms, has parental financial support and is between ages 18 and 22. Universities are now seeing more students who are older, working part-time, are married, and need an online presence for classes in lieu of being full-time in school, Bryant said.
“There’s higher education issues that need to be addressed that I see trending in the next few years,” Bryant said. “As those issues start to arise it’s going to give people the opportunity to be creative and find solutions.”
© 2012 The Texas Lawbook. Content of The Texas Lawbook is controlled and protected by specific licensing agreements with our subscribers and under federal copyright laws. Any distribution of this content without the consent of The Texas Lawbook is prohibited.