2016 – Samoane E. Williams

After seeing firsthand how the law affects people differently depending on race and socio-economic status, Samoane Williams knew she wanted to pursue a career in public interest law. Soon after graduating from Michigan State University College of Law, she started a one-year term as an AmeriCorps VISTA Attorney at First Defense Legal Aid (FDLA), an organization that provides free, 24-hour, legal representation to people in Chicago Police Department custody prior to the appointment of a public defender, and educates Chicagoans about how to protect their constitutional rights.

As an AmeriCorps VISTA Attorney, Samoane earned a poverty-level stipend, further demonstrating her enormous commitment to public service. In this role, she refined, improved and expanded FDLA’s pro bono attorney recruitment, training, management and appreciation systems, enhancing the capacity of FDLA’s pro bono program. Because of her achievements, at the conclusion of her year as a VISTA, FDLA created a new staff attorney and program administrator position for her. Now in her third year at FDLA, half of her work consists of representing people in Chicago Police Department custody at any time of the day or night when someone calls FDLA’s hotline. Her other responsibilities include supervising 24-hour shifts on FDLA’s hotline, managing pro bono attorneys and helping to create policies that direct how FDLA staff and pro bono attorneys respond to hotline calls.

While she attended Michigan State University College of Law, Samoane worked at a series of internships where she helped to preserve the rights and interests of vulnerable community members. Among these were: the Social Security Administration Office of Civil Rights & Equal Opportunity; MSU Law’s Street Law Program; and Michigan State University’s Chance at Childhood Clinic, where she assisted low-income clients with custody, divorce, and adoption cases. She spent a summer as a law student intern at Chicago Legal Advocacy for Incarcerated Mothers, an experience which reinforced her desire to live and work in Chicago as a public interest law attorney.