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Cliff Williams: Student Volunteer with the Georgia Innocence Project and Senator-at-Large for the Student Bar Association, Georgia State University, Atlanta, GA
by Heather Jung
After graduating with an undergraduate degree in finance from the University of Georgia, Williams began a career in real estate—specifically, property management. During that time, Williams faced several instances in which he thought he would have to sue someone or that his company would be sued. This prompted him to go to law school, where he seems to have found his true calling: criminal defense.
"I enjoy [the study of law] because knowing the law gives you the means to help people who feel they have nowhere to turn," Williams said.
Williams began working at the Georgia Innocence Project (GIP) last summer after being selected to interview with the organization after participating in the public interest law job fair held by the college of law. He was initially hired as an unpaid summer intern but has remained with the GIP as a volunteer.
During his time as an intern, Williams worked on several cases, including that of Pete Williams (no relation), who was convicted of rape, aggravated sodomy, and kidnapping. Williams located evidence that had been locked in the Georgia Bureau of Investigation's evidence vault. The evidence was tested and proved that the convicted man was not the perpetrator of the crimes. Pete Williams has since been released from jail, and another man has been arrested.
In addition to working for the GIP, Williams has interned for Judge John J. Ellington of the Georgia Court of Appeals and the Georgia Council on Aging; he is currently interning for the Georgia Association of Criminal Defense.
Williams is also very active in student organizations at the college of law. He is a member of the Phi Alpha Delta law school fraternity and the Georgia Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. He is also serving as Senator-at-Large for the Student Bar Association (SBA).
"I believe student organizations allow one to take part in activities that help them become a better lawyer," Williams said. "These organizations allow students to develop lawyering skills that will assist them throughout their careers and provide an opportunity to see if one likes that particular area of law or the values promoted by a particular organization."
Upon graduation, Williams hopes to pursue his career and passion in criminal defense. He is not yet sure whether he wants to take a position with a public defender's office or with a private criminal defense firm. He credits his passion for criminal defense to professors such as Mark Kadish, who he believes taught him what it really means to defend the rights of individuals and put your client above yourself.
"My love for criminal law developed from taking classes related to criminal law and from having teachers who are some of the best in the field," he said. "Their passion and dedication are something I desire to model myself after. Additionally, being able to do good and defend people's rights are aspects of this profession that make it more than a job; it becomes a passion and something I look forward to every day, especially after having the opportunity to help exonerate Pete Williams."
What do you do for fun?
I love watching college football games, particularly University of Georgia football games. I also enjoy cooking and traveling.
What CD is in your CD player right now?
What is the last magazine you read?
What is your favorite TV show?
Tie—The Office or Dexter.
Who is your role model?
Former lawyer and professor Mark J. Kadish.
In addition to dedicated professors and mentors, Williams feels that he owes thanks to Aimee Maxwell (Executive Director) and Lisa George (Communications Director) of GIP.
"They have taught me so much about the dedication and unwavering passion one has to have to work in the public interest law field; although, strictly speaking, GIP is not focused on criminal defense, it, like the criminal defense field, deals mainly with incarcerated inmates," Williams said.