Court performer: MLaw alumna helps high-profile clients


By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

If Jennifer Zbytowski Belveal were not an accomplished trial lawyer, her name might be in lights as an actress.

“I view the courtroom as a stage,” explains Belveal, a partner and trial lawyer with Foley & Lardner in Detroit who handles complex problems in both civil and criminal/regulatory areas. “Before a trial, you spend a lot of late nights preparing for the big show. When you present your case, you must put into action all of your verbal and nonverbal communication skills to command the attention of the judge and jurors. To add a level of complexity, you must understand the law well enough to write your own script, and perform with both cooperative and uncooperative witnesses. It’s a lot of work but the reward is the endorphin rush as you’re performing!” 

It’s perhaps no surprise that as a grade school student in rural northern Michigan Belveal dreamed of becoming the type of trial lawyer depicted on TV and in movies.

“I loved the idea of fighting for justice in the courtroom,” she says. “My parents thought I would outgrow the romantic notion of becoming an attorney since I didn’t know any actual lawyers, but I never did. Instead, as I began to learn what the legal profession was all about, I grew more determined to make my dream a reality.”

Belveal is a bit unusual for a trial attorney because she handles both white-collar criminal matters and civil disputes. She regularly leads internal investigations, responds to grand jury subpoenas, and advises clients on regulatory issues involving financial transactions, securities, health care, public corruption, environmental laws, and data privacy and security. Her civil practice focuses on contracts, commercial torts, real estate, fraud, and business ownership disputes.

Peer Reviewed as AV® Preeminent, and named to DBusiness Top Lawyers, and Michigan Super Lawyers, Belveal often flies under the radar – some of her best work involves cases no one has ever heard about, since her job is to keep high-profile clients out of the public eye.

“These cases involve clients who don’t want anyone to know they had a potential civil or criminal problem, and I help them address the issue in a discreet way,” she explains.

“The worst thing about being a trial lawyer who helps clients address big problems is that, even when a client likes you personally and you achieve an excellent result for him or her, the client really does not want to use your services,” she adds. “Many clients hug me goodbye and tell me that they hope that they never have to work with me again!”

A frequent speaker on business litigation, and white-collar crime and investigations, Belveal is a member of the American Bar Association where she is vice chair of the Women in White Collar Subcommittee; the State Bar of Michigan, where she was co-chair of the Pro Bono Initiative of the Committee on Justice Initiatives; the Oakland County Bar Association where she served on the Executive Committee of the Inns of Court; the Federal Bar Association; the Michigan State Bar Foundation; and the Oakland County Bar Foundation.

Her career path started with an undergrad degree in international relations, with high honors, from the James Madison College at Michigan State University. She earned her J.D., magna cum laude, from the University of Michigan School of Law, where she enjoyed the exposure to many different points of view.

“While I appreciated the differing perspectives back then, I didn’t fully understand how rare it is for such a diverse group of people to be able to openly express their views in a respectful and accepting environment,” she says.

Contributing editor of the University of Michigan Law Review, and a member of the Order of the Coif, while still at MLaw Belveal became a prosecuting intern at the Saginaw County Prosecutor's Office.

“It was an amazing opportunity to get more trial experience before becoming fully-licensed than most lawyers get in their entire careers,” she says.  “I learned to think on my feet and get comfortable in the courtroom.”

Away from the challenges of the courtroom, the Canton resident enjoys the challenge of adventurous activities – downhill skiing, rock climbing, snorkeling, water skiing, parasailing, and hot air balloon rides – with her husband, Scott, and children, Kyle, 15, and Emma, 11.

“But we also have just as much fun wandering through an apple orchard in Northern Michigan on a fall day,” she says.

The Alpena native, who previously served on the board of directors for the Canton Community Foundation and Giving Hope Women’s Giving Circle, serves on the board of trustees for Detroit Public Television.

“DPTV combines two of my favorite things – communication and kids,” she says. “It was a natural fit for me to become a trustee because my kids grew up watching PBS children’s programming on DPTV and the station is very involved in educating the community generally.”