of Counsel, Jones Day
Hon. Ann Claire Williams (Ret.) joined Jones Day in 2018 to lead its efforts in advancing the rule of law in Africa. Prior to that, she served on the federal bench for more than thirty-two years. In 1999, Williams was appointed by President William J. Clinton to the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. She became the first judge of color appointed to the Seventh Circuit and the third woman of color to serve on any United States Court of Appeals. Before assuming that position, Judge Williams, appointed by President Ronald Reagan, served on the United States District Court for the Northern District. She is still the youngest woman of color ever appointed to a federal judgeship. Judge Williams has a long history of service to the judiciary. She was the first woman and judge of color appointed Chair of the Court Administration and Case Management Committee of the Judicial Conference of the United States, which makes policy recommendations in this area for the federal judiciary. She also served for many years on the Supreme Court Fellows Program Commission and the Judicial Branch Committee of the United States Judicial Conference. Serving as Treasurer and President, she was the first judge of color to become an officer of the Federal Judges Association, which represents more than 1,100 federal judges, and works to preserve the independence of the federal judiciary.
Judge Williams also has a longstanding commitment to education and training, both in the United States and abroad. In collaboration with organizations including the National Institute for Trial Advocacy (NITA), Lawyers Without Borders, the United States Departments of Justice and State, the Virtue Foundation, and Fordham Law School, she has traveled to Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria, Uganda and Tanzania to train judges and lawyers on topics such as domestic and gender violence, judicial ethics, case management, alternative dispute resolution, and trial advocacy. She has also served as a member of international training delegations, teaching trial and appellate advocacy at the International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia. She has served as an Adjunct Professor at Northwestern Law School and taught trial advocacy at Harvard. In addition, she has judged moot court competitions at law schools across the country, including Harvard and Yale, and has served as a lecturer and instructor in many programs for federal judges, practicing attorneys, and law students.
Judge Williams has committed herself to public interest work and expanding the pipeline for minorities and women. In 1977, she co-founded Minority Legal Education Resources, which has helped over 4,000 lawyers pass the Illinois bar at a rate that equals or exceeds the annual passage rate. In 1987, she helped found the Black Women Lawyers’ Association of Chicago. In 1991, Judge Williams’s order in In Re Folding Carton (N.D. Ill. 1991) directed $2.3 million in cy pres funds to create a public interest post-graduate legal fellowship program administered by Equal Justice Works. To date, more than 1,000 lawyers have received two-year fellowships and law school tuition repayment assistance, allowing them to provide underrepresented populations effective access to the justice system. Judge Williams remains actively involved in these organizations.
In 1992, Judge Williams co-founded the Just The Beginning-A Pipeline Organization (JTB-APO), initially created to celebrate the integration of the federal judiciary, but which has evolved into a pipeline organization that creates programs for students from middle school through law school that inspires and equips students of color and other underrepresented groups to pursue legal and judicial careers. She serves on the Board of Directors of Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry, the National Institute for Trial Advocacy (NITA), Weinstein International Foundation, and iCivics Governing Board and the Boards of Trustees of Carnegie Corporation of New York and the University of Notre Dame. She also serves on the Judicial Advisory Board of JTB, the Steering Committee of the Avon Global Center for Women and Justice at Cornell Law School, and is a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority.
Judge Williams has received numerous awards for her contributions. She is the only woman judge of color who has received the American Judicature Society's Edward J. Devitt Distinguished Service to Justice Award for making a substantial contribution to the administration of justice. She has also received the American Bar Association's Margaret Brent Women Lawyers of Achievement Award and the Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession's Spirit of Excellence Award, the National Bar Association's Gertrude E. Rush Award, the National Association of Women Lawyer's Arabella Babb Mansfield Award, the Association of Corporate Counsel Chicago Chapter's Thurgood Marshall Award, the Black Women Lawyers' Association of Greater Chicago's Pioneer Award, the Chicago Bar Association's John Paul Stevens and Earl Burrus Dickerson Awards, and Chicago Inn of Court's Joel M. Flaum Award. She has also been named as one of Newsweek Daily Beast's 150 Fearless Women in the World, the Chicago Lawyer Person of the Year, listed as one of Chicago's 100 Most Influential and Powerful Women by both Crain's magazine and the Chicago Sun-Times, and inducted into the Cook County Bar Association Hall of Fame.
Judge Williams began her career as a music and third-grade teacher in the inner city schools of Detroit after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Wayne State University, and a master’s degree in guidance and counseling from the University of Michigan. She received her law degree from the University of Notre Dame. Before joining the federal bench, she was an Assistant United States Attorney in Chicago where she ultimately became Chief of the Organized Drug Enforcement Task Force. She was also a law clerk to Judge Robert A. Sprecher on the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, the court to which she was later appointed.