Always faithful Marine Corps veteran relishes work at Varnum


Varnum attorney Will Thompson is a Marine Corps veteran, and served tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Photo courtesy of Will Thompson

By Sheila Pursglove

Legal News

Varnum attorney Will Thompson enjoys the adversarial process of litigation—and likens it to his time in the U.S. Marine Corps.

“You come up with a strategy, employ the strategy, and see if you win,” he said. “You also need to have the type of personality where you don’t get personally offended by losses, which is another similarity to the military where you’re expected to ‘refit and get back into the fight.’”

Primarily focused on complex commercial, tax and insolvency litigation, Thompson said his legal experience includes assisting clients with a wide variety of commercial litigation issues, ranging from standard breach of contract claims to complex ERISA (Employment Retirement Income Security Act) fraud claims. He also assists in many debtor/creditor rights cases and bankruptcy proceedings.

One recent significant case involved a veteran with a service-connected disability who had received a VA grant to retrofit her home in order to accommodate her injuries but who later faced eviction due to legal problems.

“She had a general contractor that ended up amounting to every homeowner’s worst nightmare, and when she wouldn’t pay for his substandard renovations, he sued her,” Thompson said. “We ultimately ended up not only getting the general contractor's claims dismissed, but we got a judgment against the contractor for $70,000. This was a huge win for a well-deserving client and very rewarding in the sense that this was a pro bono case that really impacted someone’s life for the better.”

Thompson, who appreciates that litigation skills are a stand-alone skillset transferable to a variety of cases and legal issues, also has substantial experience litigating civil and criminal tax issues, including cases that arise under the Michigan Tobacco Products Tax Act (TPTA) and marijuana regulations. Within his first year of practice, he successfully tried a seven-day criminal jury trial involving three felony charges under the TPTA. Ultimately the jury returned a verdict of not guilty on all counts. He has since obtained favorable results in various other TPTA cases and was part of the Varnum litigation team that represented more than 200 companies in lawsuits against Michigan's largest insurer for charging hidden fees in violation of ERISA.

Drawn by a sense of adventure and service, Thompson served in the U.S. Marine Corps, 2nd Amphibious Reconnaissance Battalion, 2nd Marine Division at Camp Lejeune, N.C., and served tours of duty in Iraq (2006) and Afghanistan (2008).

“Like many people in my generation, I watched what happened on 9/11 in real time and that had a lasting impact,” he said. “Within weeks, I knew I was going to join the service after high school. I was drawn to the Marines because of how their reputation was portrayed. The friendships I built and the experiences I had were most rewarding. I still keep in touch with a lot of the people I served with and we make a point to get together every 1-2 years for a multi-day canoeing or rafting trip. Our common experiences have bonded us for life.”

He adds that his tours in Iraq and Afghanistan shaped a lot of the person he is today.

“The effect of time has changed how I view those experiences, and I often tell people, they were experiences I wouldn’t trade for the world, but I wouldn’t voluntarily go through twice,” Thompson said. “Both of my combat tours were during some of the heaviest fighting in both campaigns, so I truly got to experience the extreme highs and lows humanity has to offer.

“Overall, though, I’m thankful—thankful to have had those experiences and made great friends, but I’m also thankful to have emerged on the other end in good mental and physical health. As a veteran, I’ve made a conscious decision to focus on the positive aspects of those experiences, to which there were many, and transition to a different phase of life.”

With the help of the GI Bill, Thompson after his time in the Marines earned a business degree from Wayne State University with the aim of a career in the FBI, which was heavily recruiting people with accounting and finance backgrounds. But as time went on, he was more drawn towards the “civilian sector” for employment opportunities and education.

“Studying finance was a good initial decision but after leaving the military, my horizons started to expand and I realized there were other career paths to follow,” he said. “But having a finance degree is always a great starting point.”

He found Wayne State University a “perfect fit” because it provided a blend of the college experience while still being plugged into the work force.

“I started college when I was almost 23, so I was more interested in finding a career at that point and was really focused on internship and job opportunities, and going to a school that was located in Michigan’s biggest economic hub provided a lot of great opportunities,” he said. “Wayne State also had a phenomenal veterans program, which really catered to people in my demographic and helped streamline the administrative process.”

He landed a summer internship in DTE’s Renewable Energy Department, continuing to work there part-time until graduation.

“DTE was a great company to work for and I still get to cross professional paths with some of my old co-workers,” Thompson said. 

His experience at DTE, where he frequently worked with general counsel and outside attorneys on renewable energy real estate projects, solidified his decision to head to law school.

“I ended up doing a lot of the due diligence on those projects and I found the work interesting, proactive, and a critical aspect of keeping large projects moving forward,” he said.

A judicial internship for Judge Sean F. Cox of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan was a valuable experience.

“Judge Cox expects his clerks to really contribute by doing meaningful work. So on day one he throws you right into the thick of cases and legal issues and expects you to provide analysis,” Thompson said. “I’m more of a ‘hands on’ learner than an academic, so I really appreciated his style.

“Looking back on the experience, what benefits me most to this day is having a sense of how courts approach certain issues behind the scenes. For instance, it’s not always the longest brief that wins—more often than not, it’s the brief that can cut to the chase of a legal issue.”

A member of the Detroit Bar Association, Detroit Veterans Bar Association, Lakeshore Bar Association, Turnaround Management Association – Detroit and secretary of the Debtor & Creditor Rights Section of the Detroit Bar Association, Thompson also serves as vice president of the Detroit Veterans Bar Association (DVBA).

“The Association has kind of been on ‘pause’ through COVID due to the lack of social gatherings, but I’m hoping it comes back stronger than ever with a renewed focus on attracting veterans who are either in law school or have just graduated,” he said. "I joined as a second-year law student, and found it provided an avenue to build some great relationships and get involved in some really fulfilling community service projects. I will make it my focus to ensure the legacy continues.”

Thompson, who terms himself as an “outdoor junkie,” enjoys visiting National Parks with his family.

“Our goal is to see all of them before our son’s 18th birthday, which means we usually do two to three a year,” he says, adding that planned trips include four in Colorado—Great Sand Dunes, Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Mesa Verde, and Rocky Mountain National Park.

Originally from Indian Village in Detroit, Thompson now makes his home in Grosse Pointe Woods.

“There’s so much Detroit and the surrounding areas have to offer,” he says. “I’m either going to be a life-long Metro Detroit resident or I’m moving to Montana—there’s just no in-between.”

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