Interview with J. Craig Williams, Lawyer and Author in Orange County
J. Craig Williams, the founding partner of WLC- The Williams Law Corporation, located in Orange County, California recently shared his thoughts with us concerning the reasons why he entered his specialty, his passion for writing and speaking, and two important short pieces of advice that all legal professionals should follow.
Williams is the author of May it Please the Court, named by Laws.com as one of the Top 100 Legal Information Blogs of 2013. Williams has published How to Get Sued: An Instructional Guide, a hardcover book, with Kaplan Publishing, and his second hardcover book from Kaplan, Bad Decisions? 10 Famous Cases That Went Wrong is anticipated to be published in 2014. He also wrote the Foreword for the reissued hardcover book, The Path of the Law by Oliver Wendell Holmes.
What event or series of events led you to initially pursue law as your profession of choice? Please elaborate.
After college, I started working in corporate public relations that provided little intellectual challenge, so I applied and was admitted into the University of Iowa College of Law (the closest law school to where I lived). I wanted a profession that would enable me to utilize my writing and speaking skills, and law turned out to be the right path for my career. It has taken me places that I would have never imagined.
Name 1 or 2 specific challenges you have faced in the law specialty and the steps you took to meet these challenges.
When I first started to practice law, my writing style was that of a journalist, which was my undergraduate training and on-the-job training. That style was not suitable for the legal profession, and I struggled to retrain myself to write in a more logical and analytical style, recognizing the audience I was addressing. I took a ton of writing classes and seminars and learned how to write like a lawyer. I took one of my weakest skills and made it into one of my strongest skills. I highly recommend Bryan Garner’s seminars to young lawyers learning how to write in the legal profession.
How would you advise an individual entering the legal professions to proceed? What are the challenges, or obstacles that may be faced?
You must remember who you are addressing when you write. It takes different analyses and different styles when you write to a judge, the senior partner or your client. Each wants different information presented in different formats. The key is recognizing your audience and tailoring your writing to meet that person’s expectations.
Can you give us an example of an interesting case or project that you have worked on and your role in helping to achieve a positive outcome?
One of our early cases involved a music company who was losing much of its income to counterfeiters who sold copies of the company’s music at small card tables at swap meets. There were just too many card tables to shut down, so instead, we chose to focus on shutting down the sales by forcing the swap meet owner to deny access to these card table counterfeit vendors. We successful shut down all but one of the swap meet’s card tables. We sued, arguing that the swap meet owner’s allowing these small counterfeit card table vendors constituted contributory copyright infringement, even though there was little support for that concept in intellectual property law. We argued for the creation of that law.
The District Court upheld our view and shut down the card tables at this swap meet, in a case known as Fonovisa v. Cherry Auction. That case created the law of contributory copyright infringement, and when Napster came along, the court applied the law we created and shut down Napster, recognizing that the individual file sharers were like the card table vendors and Napster was like the swap meet owner.
Creative lawyering is a necessity.
What is the best career advice you have ever received? Name 1 or 2 guidelines you would offer the legal professional just entering the field?
Return telephone calls the same day. Do more than is required.
As an accomplished author of a blog related to the practice of law, what advice would you offer to the legal professional concerning the role of social media in their profession?
Use it, and use it consistently. Manage your reputation and image; be careful of what you allow to be posted about you. When you write, choose your style and stick with it. Make what you write interesting to the reader – remember your audience, and write about your area of practice. Stay within your skill set, and show everyone else what you know.
This is the last question and time for your inner lawyer to break free. What is the key strength you bring to your career and how would you advise legal professionals to mine their own strengths to further their careers.
My key strengths are creativity and persistence. Much of the law involves a stiflingly slow, plodding case/client load that requires you as a lawyer to manage it and move it forward. Given that, lawyers tend to litigate by the numbers or draft contracts the same way as they did before.
Creative lawyers break free from those molds and actually think about their clients’ needs and the eventualities that may ensue after the litigation is finished and the contract is written. Anticipating your clients’ future needs provides the service that your client doesn’t yet know that it needs. When your client realizes that you’ve thought everything through for them, however, you’ve done your job and now have a client for life.
We thank J. Craig Williams for being so generous with his time to provide advice and insights for our readers. You can learn more about J. Craig at his blog May It Please the Court.