As a young person, Ms. Williams wanted to be a teacher. At Wesleyan, she took courses in the teacher education program while majoring in American Studies. Ms. Williams said that the role models that she had growing up influenced her to want to become a teacher. However, after a series of discussions with her older brother, who had not had the educational opportunities that she had and who strongly encouraged her to explore other opportunities because of her Wesleyan education, she decided in her senior year of college to pursue law school. It is a decision she has not regretted. By her second year of law school, she decided that her focus would be commercial real estate. After graduation, she had an opportunity to return to large firm practice in New York, but opted instead for a job opportunity at a California law firm.
The early years were difficult. People were not ready for women and minorities in the large law firms, and she was both. There were few, if any, women or minority partners at any of the large firms, including the ones where she worked. Those early experiences influenced her to vow to be a mentor to other attorneys. Everyone needs a guiding hand, especially when they are starting out, and if she can help new attorneys navigate their early years, she is more than happy to oblige.
Despite the challenges, she believes that her large firm training was invaluable. It gave her the training and skill to handle complex and challenging cases. She encourages young attorneys to seek opportunities at large or boutique firms as part of the early training for their professional careers.
Ms. Williams noted that there has been a change from when she started practicing, when a young associate may have spent the first three or four years in the library researching legal issues, and there was no pressure on young associates to market their services to bring clients into the firm. All of that has changed. Associates are handed cases much sooner, and there is far more pressure to bring in clients at an earlier stage in their career. Excellent attorneys can be trained in this way as well but it is quite different than the model when she started to practice.
Having her own firm has made it possible for Ms. Williams to balance her life. She has been married for the past twenty-two years to her husband, who is a space physicist. Her oldest son is a senior in high school and is getting ready for college. Her younger son is a freshman in high school. She has been able to savor and enjoy her time with her family, and is proud of the fact that she is able to be an engaged parent who has not missed opportunities to be with her family.
Ms. Williams’ large firm training has helped her maintain a level of sophistication, no matter where she has practiced. It is not always easy to start your own firm. After practicing in her own firm from 1985-1998, she joined a large firm in 1998, but decided to go back out on her own again in 2003. She is proud to be the "go to” person, the real estate guru. She speaks at seminars and writes articles in her area of law.
Her philosophy is to be zealously focused on client services and client satisfaction, while she strongly advocating for her clients’ interests. Ms. Williams is nationally recognized as an authority on commercial real estate law, and has won numerous awards. She has served as Chair of the Real Property Section of the Los Angeles County Bar Association. She has been selected as a "Southern California Super Lawyer” by Los Angeles Magazine for each year from 2006 through 2011. Forbes Magazine wrote a profile on her in their December 2010 issue. She was honored by Commercial Real Estate Women – Los Angeles in June, 2011 as a "Woman at the Top”.
Ms. Williams served as Chair of the State Bar Real Property Section committee that drafted California Civil Code Section 2938. That Code section was the model for the Uniform Assignment of Rents Act (the "Act”). She was asked to be an Observer on the Uniform Law Commission Committee that was tasked to draft the Act. That Act has now been adopted by various states, including Utah, New Mexico, and Nevada and served as a model for the Texas statute.
She encourages people to network at organizations such as CMCP. She has been a member of CMCP most years since its founding in 1989 and has been a member of the Board. She says that she has received significant work as a result of her association with CMCP. It is not just the Corporate Connection opportunities that are important, but also the casual networking in the hallways. Like many things, it is not something that necessarily happens quickly, it is about relationship building and getting to know the people individually. It requires patience and a commitment to stay involved and engaged.