William K. Whitner doesn’t wait for opportunity to knock; he goes ahead and starts checking all the doors. At the tender age of 34, Whitner has mastered the art of seizing opportunities and working them to his advantage. The commercial litigator with Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker, has earned a reputation for being not only a skilled legal practitioner but also someone with a knack for turning ideas into highly successful business enterprises, forming, among other things, a trucking company, an entertainment group and a computer distributing company.
“I guess it’s just an entrepreneurial spirit,” he says. “I’m always looking for something to get my hands into.” With a wide circle of friends and acquaintances, Whitner — who goes by the nickname “K” — says keeping his ears open is the best method for finding worthwhile endeavors.
There’s no predetermined buy/sell plan, just gut instinct. “I don’t really have a specific exit strategy when I get into a business,” he says. “I just work with it until it seems economically advantageous to leave, or until I lose interest.” He’s long since sold his interest in the trucking company but remains on the computer distribution group’s board and still maintains the entertainment group ownership.
While developing business ventures is an appealing challenge, the practice of law has long been on his mind. In fact, Whitner’s parents kept the paper on which the preschooler penned his career goals. When he grew up, he wrote, he wanted to be a “Lawar.”
Fortunately his spelling improved and the Yale graduate entered the legal field in 1996. Focusing on business commercial litigation, he has since built an impressive roster of clients — but not at the expense of civic responsibility. Whitner began volunteering for the Big Brother program while in college, and has since mentored five young men, some for a period of several years. He’s also a member of 100 Black Men of Atlanta, and is on the board of directors of the Anti-Prejudice Consortium, a program that targets Atlanta middle school students to promote diversity. Each local school sends 10 or so students to the program. The students undergo diversity training that examines common racial, sexual and social biases. “We pick students who have leadership potential, in the hope that they will take the message back to school and promote the new ideas,” Whitner says.
As if all of this isn’t enough — and shouldn’t it be? — Whitner is also a competitive bodybuilder. What started as a simple way to relieve the stress of law school soon became another avenue for Whitner’s competitive nature. A cousin convinced him to enter a competition, and he won it. “That was probably the worst thing that could have happened,” he laughs. “I became addicted.”
Currently recuperating from an injury, Whitner hopes to make it back to his former competitive status. He’s recently added earlymorning gym time to his schedule, with a goal of returning in the near future. “I want the chance to end it on my own terms,” he says.
So what’s the key component to this insane schedule? How does a man balance a) business interests, b) bodybuilding, c) Big Brotherhood and d) a little thing called the law? It helps to have e) an understanding wife. “My wife’s also a lawyer,” he says. “She really supports all my outside interests.”