Public servant MLaw grad heads to DC on legal practitioner scholarship

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By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

As a political science major at the University of Illinois, Ian Williams explored his interest in public service in a number of ways.

First, he worked as a a reporter for the school radio station, then as a staff member on a congressional campaign.

Finally, Williams signed on as an intern at The White House, where he prepared daily news clippings for senior staff membersand helped assemble a daily briefing book for Senior Advisor David Axelrod.

He also conducted background research for media interviews with Austan Goolsbee, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors. 

“Throughout all of these experiences, one thing became clear — the people doing the most exciting work in government, politics, and policy were almost universally lawyers,” Williams said. “From then on law school became my goal — though I took a few years to work and build up some life experience before I came to Michigan.” 

Williams is returning to the nation’s capital this fall with a University of Michigan Law School Legal Practitioner Fellowship that provides up to a full year’s funding for newly minted graduates to work in government or at a nonprofit. 

The Chicago-area native has his sights set on a career in public service. 

“I imagine this will mean splitting my career between government, politics and non-profit organizations,” he said. “Ideally, I would love to end up as the chief-of-staff for a governor or senator, or as the executive director of a non-profit dedicated to an issue I’m passionate about — a lot of my work in law school trended towards technology policy or civil liberties. 

“If circumstances allow I’d like to run for office myself at some point, though exactly where and when that could happen remains to be seen.”

Williams, who hopes to land a position in a congressional office, has lived in D.C. off and on since 2011, when he was a junior in college.

“At this point it’s really a second home,” he said. “I came to D.C. for the work — there’s nowhere else where you can work with such brilliant and dedicated people on the most important issues facing our society. 

“While I love the museums and monuments as much as the next history buff, what keeps me returning to D.C. are the people. With a few exceptions, D.C. attracts fantastic and smart people from across the country, many of whom have decided to dedicate their lives to public service, whether in government or at nonprofits.”

During law school, Williams interned at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, and the Center for Democracy & Technology.

“While CDT and the Lawyers Committee are devoted to very different areas of law and policy, they are both organizations with vital missions,” he said. “I worked at CDT for two years before law school, so getting to return to the organization and spend a summer there as a legal intern was a homecoming.”

Williams worked on major issues at CDT, including curtailing government surveillance and protecting the privacy of students. 

“Technology policy and privacy are deeply important issues as our lives are now completely entwined with our devices — so getting to work on those issues was really fascinating and has shaped my career interests and goals,” he said. 

The Lawyers’ Committee, where he was assigned to work on criminal justice reform, was very different, with its own deeply interesting challenges, and provided the chance to help out on several lawsuits seeking to improve access to counsel and curtail abuses within the criminal justice systems. 

“My time there gave me a much clearer view of the deficiencies within our system, and it was very inspiring to see talented and dedicated lawyers doing everything they could to fix those issues and improve access to justice,” he said. 

Williams served as editor-in-chief of the Michigan Telecommunications and Technology Law Review. 

‘Being EIC of a legal journal is always challenging, as you have to balance the expectations of authors — usually professors —with the abilities of your student employees. And at the end of the day, as EIC everything comes down to you — from the first edit to the final printing,” he said. “While it could be stressful at times, it was immensely rewarding once the final issue was in my hands.” 

Serving in the MLaw student government for two years, he enjoyed being able to serve his fellow law students and as treasurer, took the lead on the yearly funding process for student organizations.

“Michigan Law is lucky enough to have a lot of wonderful student organizations, and it’s the senate’s job to dole out funding to all of them,” he said. “It was really wonderful to see the activities and events the funding went toward.” 

In his 3L year, he was treasurer for the Organization of Public Interest Students, serving on the OPIS board with a number of friends.

“We worked very hard to put on a lot of great programing to help public interest students launch their careers and had the chance to keep the public interest community at Michigan strong,” he said.

Also a member of the Privacy and Technology Law Association, the American Constitution Society, the Nannes 3L Challenge Committee, and the Wellness Committee, Williams was honored at this year’s Senior Day in May with the Irving Stenn Jr. Award, for demonstrating leadership, and contributing through extracurricular activities to the well-being and strength of the law school.

“The sense of community at Michigan Law is one of the school’s great strengths, and that community is built and sustained in large part by student organizations — which in turn thrive on the passion and dedication of their members,” he said. 

The fact that the Stenn Award is ranked among the school’s top honors, Williams said, “shows just how important community involvement is to the Michigan Law experience.

“It’s humbling to be recognized for my contributions to that community, and I’m honored to be in the company of past winners, including some friends and mentors of mine.

“A big part of what makes Michigan Law special is the people,” he added. “The student body at Michigan Law is diverse and dynamic, with interests across the board. Law school can be extremely stressful, and the community atmosphere at Michigan goes a long way toward combating that stress. That atmosphere was a big part of why I originally chose to come to Michigan, and I know it contributed to my success as a law student.” 

With music a life-long passion, singing with the Headnotes a cappella group was one of the highlights of his time in law school. 

“I’ve been singing for 15 years in a lot of different choirs and groups, but none have been as close knit as Headnotes,” Williams said. “It was wonderful to take a few hours each week, put aside the stress of law school, and just make music with my friends.”  

Williams has always been an avid reader, although law school didn’t allow for much reading beyond legal tomes. 

“I love science fiction — and was even in the law school’s sci-fi/fantasy book club — as well as books on history and politics,” he said. “I’ve a bad habit of buying too many books, so I’m looking forward to having the chance to make a dent in my collection after the bar exam.” 

His parents instilled in their son a love of learning. 

“We’re definitely the family that goes to museums instead of the beach on vacation,” he said. “They’ve always supported me while giving me the room to make mistakes and grow, and I owe a lot of my success, in law school and in life, to that ever-present support.” 

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