University of Colorado School of Law alumna Tracy Y. Williams found her passion for the law early in life at the age of five and stuck to it, building an accomplished career in environmental law.
During her childhood, Williams watched “Perry Mason” reruns at her great-grandmother’s house, and made an announcement as a very young child that she was going to be an attorney. In high school, she participated in programs that gave her a better idea of what being a lawyer would truly be like. Going into her undergraduate studies in international political economics, Williams knew that she would eventually go to law school, and she began to hone in on one particular area of the law.
“When I was doing my undergrad I was focused on how first-world politics and decisions impact the environment, not just in first-world countries, but also in third-world countries,” Williams said.
This emphasis on the environment stayed with Williams into law school, where she focused her studies on environmental law. She specifically chose Colorado Law because of its national recognition for environmental law but also appreciated that the school had strengths in other areas in case she chose to go a different direction.
While in law school, Professors Sarah Krakoff and Charles Wilkinson specifically helped Williams with her passion for pursuing a career in environmental law. In what would turn out to be important for her next steps, former Colorado Law Dean Phil Weiser (then Professor Weiser), encouraged Williams to apply for a clerkship.
Williams took Weiser’s advice and clerked for not one, but two judges after law school. She returned to Washington, where she completed her undergraduate degree, and worked for Judge Robin Hunt and Judge C.C. Bridgewater, both at the Washington Court of Appeals.
“I was blessed to work with two judges with great legal minds and who were also good writers,” Williams said. “They pushed us in our legal thought in terms of research and writing.”
Following her clerkships, Williams remained in Washington, where she is now a senior associate at Murphy, Armstrong & Felton, LLP. As she always planned, she focuses primarily on environmental law and often helps entities comply with the law as they clean up industrial properties.
“The part I find most rewarding is being able to help clients resolve complex issues and be able to get the outcome—maybe not the outcome that they wanted—but the outcome that they can live with that will allow them to continue to move forward in whatever their endeavors are,” Williams said.
Williams’s practice is largely client-centric, and she particularly enjoys getting to know each client as they solve problems together: “What I’m trying to do when I initially meet with someone is understand what their goals are and what their expectations are for the process,” she said.
Of her many professional achievements, Williams is particularly proud of and grateful for the opportunity she had to take a case all the way up to the Washington Court of Appeals. The case established precedent that will assist her and others in the field in the future.
“That was probably a defining moment just because we have this case law now, and it keeps other people from using this crazy defense that the defendants in this case tried to use,” Williams said.
Even after experiencing such an important career win, Williams has big plans for expanding her environmental law practice.
“I would definitely like to grow my practice more and that’s probably the next thing that I’m focused on in my career,” Williams said. “I’d like to get to the point where I’m solely doing environmental work.”
In her spare time, Williams serves as vice chair of the Environmental Transactions and Brownfields Committee for the American Bar Association’s section of environment, energy, and resources. She is also the former chair of the King County Bar Association’s environmental and land use section.
Williams’s interest in the environment permeates nearly every area of her life, including her hobbies. In the last few years, she has developed a love for nature photography and cultivates this skill as she continues to grow her environmental law career.
What is your fondest memory of being a student at Colorado Law?
Time spent with friends discussing class lectures.
What do you know now that you wish you had known in law school?
I wish I had known more about the importance of networking and business development.
What advice would you give to current students as they’re preparing to graduate?
Find a balance between your career and the other important things in your life (e.g., family, friends, hobbies, etc.). It is important to be a well-rounded person and not just an attorney.
Who was the biggest influence on your career?
After graduating from CU, I clerked for The Honorable J. Robin Hunt. While clerking, and to this day, Judge Hunt’s invaluable information and advice have helped me to make decisions regarding my career.
Of what accomplishment are you most proud?
My selection in 2014 as a fellow with the Washington Leadership Institute (WLI). WLI is a leadership development program. The program not only continues the leadership development of the fellows but also provides fellows with an opportunity to meet and learn from members of the state and federal judiciary, corporate leaders, and citizen activists.