In the News Corporate Counsel

Women, Influence & Power in Law 2019: Erica Williams

What was your route to the top?

I began my legal career as a litigation associate at Arnold & Porter in 1998. In 2004, I joined the Securities and Exchange Commission as a trial attorney where I spent seven years prosecuting cases. In 2011, the chair of the SEC selected me to serve as her enforcement counsel. The next year, she promoted me to deputy chief of staff where I was fortunate to serve under three different SEC chairs. In 2015, I left the SEC to join the White House Counsel’s Office as special assistant and associate counsel to President Barack Obama. When the Obama administration ended, I joined Kirkland & Ellis as a partner in the firm’s government, regulatory and internal investigations practice group where I represent companies and individuals in white-collar crime, securities investigations, other business litigation disputes and crises.

What keeps you up at night?

I care about my clients, especially those clients going through a crisis. Right now, I am representing a client pro bono who is on death row. We believe his sentence should be overturned because he is intellectually disabled. I have lost a lot of sleep over that case because it is truly life or death.

What is the best leadership advice you’ve given or received, and why do you think it was effective?

The best leadership advice I received is that a good leader should be decisive. If a leader makes a good decision, she should give credit to her staff. If she makes a bad decision, she should take all of the blame. This advice is critical because it will help you build a solid team, and a leader is only as strong as their team.

Looking back, what do you wish you had known when you started out in the legal profession?

I wish I had known how important sponsorship would be to my success. A good sponsor can change the entire trajectory of your career. I did not realize the importance of sponsorship until I had been practicing for several years. I now cultivate sponsors and work hard to sponsor other young women attorneys. I also wish I knew that there were so many different paths to career success in the legal profession. I have had the opportunity to serve in several exciting jobs that I never imagined I would have. If you strive for excellence, and maintain good relationships, doors will open for you.

What is the most valuable career advice anyone has ever given you?

Be kind. As you become more senior, who you know is just as important as what you know. Your career is long, and people you meet early in your career may cross your path again as a potential client, employer or colleague. Leave a good impression.