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Heels of Justice

Mar 4, 2021

Welcome to Heels of Justice; these are the stories of women lawyers who are trailblazers in their field and paved the way for the rest of us.


The Honorable retired Judge Ann Claire Williams is a trailblazer and leader devoted to promoting the effective delivery of justice worldwide, particularly in Africa. She has partnered with judiciaries, attorneys, NGOs, and the U.S. Departments of Justice and State to lead training programs in Ghana, Indonesia, Kenya, Liberia, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia. She also has taught at the International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia.


Judge Williams has led a brilliant career heading a series of firsts for both women and persons of color, she joins the podcast today to share her trailblazing stories and experience. Tune in for an insightful discussion about the ever-changing and evolving world we live in and the pivotal place lawyers take in it.


Key Takeaways

[1:00] Sarita welcomes Judge Ann Claire Williams and asks her to share a little bit about where she grew up, why she began teaching so early, and how she started law school on a dare!


[4:34] Though she had no idea what law school would be like, Judge Williams shares the insight she had that led her to believe she actually could be a lawyer: teachers teach and lawyers teach.


[8:06] Judge Williams shares advice for young aspiring law students from what it means to get a great grade point on your first year, to asking the questions to get the answers you need, getting mentors and sponsors to get recommendation letters, joining the Moot Court and affinity groups, and much, much more! Fifty percent of the game is believing in yourself.


[17:50] Starting her legal career was partly thanks to having made an impression on the Dean at law school, Judge Williams shares how she came to clerk, for whom and how she changed his hiring practice. She shares the three lessons she learned from getting that position:

1- You never know who is looking at you and evaluating you

2- We are not in the rooms where decisions are made so you need allies and mentors to pitch for you

3- Mentors come in all colors and ages


[21:04] Judge Williams talks about how she started as an Assistant U.S. Attorney and the conversation she agreed to have with Marianne Jackson that sparked her interest in the AUSA. She shares her experience there and the sensitivity she hopes to have brought to the position.


[27:11] Sarita lays out the long list of “firsts” that Judge Williams has had the courage and grace to accomplish for all those who came after her. Judge Williams shares what these have meant to her.


[30:33] Judge Williams shares what it is that judges want, and what you should avoid at all costs — don’t ruin your own credibility: you want an assumption that the arguments you’re making are strong and to the point. Also, “Judges talk, just like lawyers, and we talk about lawyers!”


[35:45] Having loved being a trial lawyer and a trial judge, our guest shares what pulled her from the bench. She touches on the differences and challenges in tackling the Court of Appeals cases.


[39:39] Judge Williams speaks to having begun her work in Africa in 2002, what that burgeoned into over the years and what personal dream she was able to fulfill by doing so. She opens up about the kind of work she has been able to do through her current counsel practice at Jones Day.


[46:32] Having had the opportunity to work on multiple continents, Judge Williams shares some of the differences and similarities she’s had the pleasure of witnessing first hand. One common thread linking most is a belief in the rule of law and the accessibility of law for the people of their countries.


[48:25] The amount of work Judge Williams had done outside of her “job” is impressive; she speaks to the reasons that drove her to accomplish this much and launch these organizations.


[55:00] Judge Williams explains how she started the bar review program. One person can make a difference and you shouldn’t let your robe get in the way of your humanity.


[1:01:08] George Floyd.


[1:10:03] A salient career moment, Judge Williams shares a story of Judge Hugh Will and how he encouraged her to go to a particular meeting where — unbeknownst to her — he had decided to make her treasurer of the Federal Judges Association which put her on track to become the first person of color to become an officer and eventually president.


She also shares a beautiful personal story about having the privilege and honor of introducing President Obama as well as having her mother meet him.


[1:15:50] Judge Williams shares her mantras going through COVID-19.


[47:10] Sarita thanks Judge Williams for sharing so much of her story and experience on the Heels of Justice podcast and she signs off until next time.


That’s it for this episode of Heels of Justice; if you like the stories we’re telling, please visit our website. You can join our mailing list, learn more about our guests, and see what we have planned for the future.


You can also follow us on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.


Disclaimer: The opinions you have heard are ours or our guests’ alone. They’re not the opinions of our employers, or our clients, or our bosses, and not our husbands, kids, or pets, or anyone else’s.


More about the Heels of Justice hosts Sarita Venkat, and Katherine Minarik

Heels of Justice on the Web

Heels of Justice on Twitter

Heels of Justice on Instagram

Heels of Justice on Facebook


Sarita Venkat on LinkedIn

Katherine Minarik on LinkedIn

Katherine Minarik on Twitter

Katherine Minarik at cleverbridge


More about our guest

Judge Ann Claire Williams on LinkedIn


Mentioned in this episode

Jones Day

Just The Beginning

Equal Justice Works

Black Women Lawyers’ Association

Minority Legal Education Resource