As a product of the ’70s, Timothy “Tim” Whitley grew up watching TV law shows. He recalls being especially intrigued by Judge Wapner of The People’s Court and by the attorneys arguing cases on popular dramas.
“I was fascinated by the notion that a lawyer sort of stepped into the shoes of someone accused of a crime or some wrongdoing and told their story for them,” he recalls. “I found that to be a very compelling career choice.”
In school, Whitley was drawn to speech and debate clubs—a precursor to a life as a trial lawyer—and it made sense to him then that he would pursue a career in this field.
After graduating from the Dedman School of Law at Southern Methodist University in 1996, he knew he wanted to be a trial lawyer. Everyone told him he should be looking at the DA’s office so he could get the experience he craved.
But instead, he met lawyer Christian Jenkins, saw the dynamic plaintiff practice Jenkins ran, and jumped into a job with that firm. Within two weeks, Whitley was taking the lead chair role for all sorts of different litigations.
“It was trial by fire, and I learned so much in those first years—just how to move in a courtroom and how to speak to witnesses and how to organize ideas. It was transformative—like going to boot camp,” Whitley explains.
A few years down the line, Whitley was reading the classified section of the Texas Lawyer magazine when he saw an obscure ad for a telecommunications company seeking a trial lawyer. He thought it was odd but sent in a résumé. That ad turned out to be for Southwestern Bell Telephone Company.
“They were looking for someone to take the lead in their personal injury docket,” he shares. “They painted an awesome picture of what you could do there, and I jumped in and didn’t look back.”
“There has been a transformation of our collective DNA, and we all find ourselves doing things in a much different way.”
Now, twenty-one years later, Whitley serves as vice president and associate general counsel at DirecTV, which was acquired by AT&T in 2015 but remerged as a stand-alone company in August 2021.
Whitley has spent most of his career in the litigation group. During his first five years with the company, he was involved in almost every kind of litigation—employment, commercial, complex, and simple, as well as some interesting personal injury cases. In the years that followed, a series of promotions broadened his experience.
“We have been fortunate to work on many litigation matters guided by Tim,” says Haynes and Boone Litigation Partner Anne Johnson. “He sized up the key issues at play and steered the team toward practical solutions that achieved his business clients’ objectives.”
One memorable initiative was helping AT&T integrate DirecTV into the organization when it was acquired in 2015. At that point, he was offered the chance to lead the new DirecTV’s litigation team and build the group from the ground up.
“We looked at the litigation group starting from zero. I literally started with a blank sheet of paper. We’ve looked at how we could provide the same sort of quality legal representation to our clients but do so with a smaller team,” Whitley explains. “What we found is there are some tools and technologies we can leverage, and we are rethinking many of our assumptions of how we support our clients. We are really looking at the organization from the ground up.”
Whitley’s team now consists of three lawyers with varied backgrounds and two paralegals. Together, he believes they can solve any task. Aside from familiarizing himself with new technologies, Whitley has learned to better understand his clients’ new mindset and work style.
“My plan is to build a litigation group that has the legacy of AT&T but is nimbler in the way it operates.”
“There has been a transformation of our collective DNA, and we all find ourselves doing things in a much different way,” he says. “An example is the clients work very closely with their lawyers and we understand their goals, which allows us greater flexibility to help them meet those goals.
“What I’ve found is when we understand our clients’ objectives early and clearly, and the team is empowered to make decisions, they do a heck of a good job,” he continues. “My plan is to build a litigation group that has the legacy of AT&T but is nimbler in the way it operates.”
“It is a true privilege to work with Tim,” says Norton Rose Fulbright partner Brett Govett. “Tim is a fierce advocate who always does the right thing and exercises tremendous empathy in the process.”
One of the most valuable lessons that Whitley has learned during his career is that no matter how much you know or how certain you are about a decision or an area of law, having a sounding board is incredibly valuable.
“I have tried a lot of cases, and what I have figured out is, I see the world through that lens,” he shares. When dealing with “somewhat novel” issues, the different perspective that comes from talking to another attorney pays off.
Another lesson is that the best thing to do is talk through an issue with a client and understand where they’re trying to go. Be there at the beginning of the process, he advises, so you’re not doing cleanup at the end.
“The number one thing I would suggest to young lawyers is to develop that relationship with your client where you see their business holistically, and not through the lens of a lawyer, and they see you as a partner and not just a lawyer,” Whitley notes.
During his time with AT&T, Whitley has come across some exciting cases, but not everything he’s loved has been about case law. For instance, through AT&T’s robust pro bono program, Whitley says, “I had an opportunity to take on an immigration asylum case, and it was truly one of the most rewarding things I’ve done.”
At the end of the day, though, what Whitley is proudest of is the relationships he’s built in the department.