Profiles in Practice: Josh Williams

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Josh Williams isn’t your typical 40-something attorney (to be fair, he just turned 40 in February). Sure, he’s a dad and a lawyer, and he takes care of business—but as all attorneys know, attention to detail is important. With Williams, there are a lot of details to his character and solo practice that you may not know or catch on to. And Williams prefers it that way. 

In asking about his leather legal backpack, he comments that perhaps other lawyers underestimate him or think he’s inexperienced because he doesn’t carry the traditional briefcase. Yet, the backpack-briefcase is only one of many details of Williams’s practice and personality. Williams’s experience, and the calm, confident, and steady demeanor he brings, likely makes him an excellent advocate for his clients.

Williams fondly recalls his younger days practicing, remembering the type of passion he brought to each case. In civil rights/employment law litigation, you have to have a good amount of passion, but it must be measured. Williams states that other attorneys probably thought he was a “punk.” Williams readily admits that he likely was. Only as time went on, he realized how to shape that passion into a very well-balanced, professional advocacy—one with less vinegar, and more reason, than in his younger days. This helped his confidence as well, commenting that “I used to be a trial weenie,” and that he is now a “trial animal.”

As a practitioner in the areas of employment law and civil rights litigation, Williams was quick to point out that they really are one and the same. This is because nearly all employment law cases are considered civil rights cases. Williams’s advocacy and understanding in these situations is very high, and it shows with the cadence and calmness with which he speaks. 

Adding to this is that Williams runs his practice alone. Coming from a family with a strong entrepreneurial spirt, he brings a certain independence and ambition. This has not only helped him in his career, but certainly in the new COVID-19 world. Particularly, Williams mentions that “early on, I learned to harness technology.” He harnessed this skill as a solo practitioner, without much help from support staff or others. This helped not only with his practice but also in having the patience to take on distance learning with his two young sons.

Speaking somewhat in jest, Williams stated that “every case is a special snowflake.” In saying so, he means that every case deserves your attention, detailed analysis, and objective advice—it does not by any means represent that each case necessarily has merit. It is again this balanced, thoughtful approach which breeds success—but also can breed disgruntled clients. We all have them—and all of us have trouble at times with that conversation with a client. The one where you tell them they don’t have a case. This can happen all too often in Williams’s practice, with the harshness of the employment-at-will doctrine. Williams’s reaction to such people though, you can tell, only comes from experience and an understanding gained over time. He explained that clients are sometimes desperate—they are at the end of their rope, physically, mentally, spiritually, and you have to understand and sympathize with that during those conversations. It’s a skill that not all of us have, which Williams seems to, and which makes those conversations much easier. 

This skill and understanding, while coming from years of experience, also likely comes from a background filled with varied experiences and communities. Williams grew up in Oakland, California, but moved after an incident in junior high school, which Williams described as a “hood” school. This forced his parents to make the decision that the area was not best for him. In a dispute with his seventh-grade teacher about the compass rose (she transposed east and west on the chalkboard), Williams inadvertently rallied some class members with an impassioned speech that led to the situation getting out of hand. Of course, seen as insubordination by the teacher and principal, this unfortunately led to his suspension. 

Williams and his parents then moved to Des Moines. Williams remained there until he left for college at the University of Missouri-Columbia, and later at the University of Iowa for law school. He then worked as a teacher, and later in the Office of Admissions at the University of Iowa. 

Williams came out of law school during the recession in 2008, and joined a large Minneapolis firm, where he was the only black male associate. Williams realized quickly that the larger firm culture just wasn’t the right fit, and so put up his shingle only a year later in 2009. He applauds and compliments how great the bar association is, and how much they helped him in gaining the competency, confidence, and resources needed to run his own practice. Since then, Williams has run a successful firm dedicated to individuals’ employment and civil rights.

Williams is not your typical lawyer. His office is located right off of the Greenway, which allows him to ride his fleet of named bicycles to the office. Yes, named. “Juanita,” “Cheetara,” “DaShonda,” and “Elsa” (his winter bike, of course, named after the popular Frozen character). Williams also proudly sports the community bikes throughout the city. Outside of seeing him on a bike, you may hear him talk about his taking adventure travels to various wild places, including trips to Glacier National Park, Alaska, and an upcoming trip to Joshua Tree National Park. 

If you are there, do not underestimate him if he shows up with just a regular looking backpack — and likely on a bike. 
by Josh Brekken

jbrekken@messerlikramer.com

Josh Brekken practices exclusively in the areas of family law and divorce. With over eight years of experience helping clients with complex and difficult family law matters, he has represented clients in many facets of family law including divorce, spousal maintenance, child custody, parenting time, child support, post-degree modifications, and family law appeals. His experience in civil and business litigation as well as business law gives him a unique and more thorough perspective for all types of family law matters.