eing tapped to run an office for a large international law firm carries with it a significant downside: It pulls the new managing partner away from practicing law. James F. Williams ’88, the managing partner of Perkins Coie’s Seattle office, is determined to resist.
“I’m still very much in the game of practicing law,” he said. “I am fighting mightily.” An accomplished trial lawyer, Williams also chairs the firm’s business litigation practice, representing several of the Seattle area’s corporate giants.
During his 30-year career, he has handled all manner of jury trials, arbitrations and settlement negotiations, occasionally taking on non-business matters. In 2013, he won Wilbur v. City of Mount Vernon, the class-action civil rights suit by misdemeanor defendants who said they were not granted their Sixth Amendment right to counsel because of shoddy public defense. The ACLU supported the challenge.
U.S. District Court Judge Robert Lasnik found in his verdict that “the individual defendant is not represented in any meaningful way, and actual innocence could conceivably go unnoticed and unchampioned.”
The case resulted in court-ordered supervision and reforms in the defense system.
Seattle is about as far as one can get, geographically and culturally, from the small town of Rembert, South Carolina, where Williams grew up. “It was such a rural place,” he said in a 2006 interview for the magazine Washington Super Lawyers. “People just had to pull together to help the suffering.”
Williams attended UVA after graduating with honors from The Citadel on an Air Force ROTC scholarship. After serving for four years in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps, he joined Perkins Coie. In fact, Williams is one of that vanishing breed of lawyer who has spent his entire career with the same firm. “I’m a dinosaur,” he said.
His new responsibilities as managing partner require Williams to oversee all administrative matters relating to the firm’s 315-lawyer Seattle office, including marketing and hiring. It’s a big responsibility while trying to maintain at least a somewhat normal caseload.
“It means my day is a little long,” Williams said, “but practicing law is a labor of love.”