Ann Claire Williams discusses leadership and innovation in the judiciary at Katzmann Lecture

Ann Claire Williams, former Judge of the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit and now counsel at Jones Day, delivered the second annual Robert A. Katzmann Lecture on April 18. Discussing her experiences as a judge, both at the appellate level and as a US district judge in the Northern District of Illinois, she emphasized the importance of leadership and innovation in the judiciary.

Watch the video of the event:

Selected remarks from Judge Ann Claire Williams:

“I took a lot of time when I [heard] guilty pleas [in the district court]—I didn’t try to do them in 20 minutes. If someone hesitated or didn’t understand when I was explaining things—and I think part of this was from [having been] a teacher—I would say, ‘Do you need more time? Do you need to talk to defense counsel? Do you understand that anything you say can be used against you?’...To me, making sure that people understood their rights was really, really important.” (video, 27:02)

“Just like lawyers have reputations and lawyers talk about us as judges, judges talk about judges. And in the Court of Appeals, we knew who the [district] judges were that made a great record, and so when you had to make a call, [if it was] a judge that you trusted… that was very thoughtful, you often gave them the benefit of the doubt. Credibility as a trial judge mattered, and it mattered in the Court of Appeals.” (video, 32:28)

“I had heard about the Skadden, Arps program…to fund fellowships for lawyers working in the public interest area. I thought that was a brilliant idea. And when I had this money, I had $2.3 million [from a reserve of unclaimed funds from the In Re Folding Carton Antitrust Litigation national settlement],...I had a committee that I had appointed and I said, ‘Here’s what I want to do: I want to make this a permanent fellowship program.’... I wanted to have a provision where their loans were paid off, because I could see, on the bench, that kids were making the choice not to do public interest work because salaries were low and their loans were so big…. We started with seven fellows in 1991. Now we have had over 2,000 fellows in the country, and now the name is Equal Justice Works.” (video, 35:34)

Posted on July 14, 2023