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PJC profile: Sam Williamson, legal intern

November 6, 2017: This semester we’ve enjoyed having Sam Williamson as a legal intern at the Public Justice Center. A third-year student at the University of Maryland School of Law, Sam has been doing research for the National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel. One of Sam’s projects has focused on how a 2011 Supreme Court decision has affected state-level rulings on the right to a lawyer in civil contempt cases. While that may sound wonky, civil contempt includes things like failure to pay child support or other fees and fines, the consequences of which can include jail time. But since these are civil cases, and not criminal, people in many parts of the country do not have a right to a lawyer, even though their liberty is at stake. For Sam, the research has brought home how different judges can interpret the same situation differently. Those differences in interpretation can either be a setback for progress or an opportunity to improve the law.

The internship has also solidified Sam’s conviction that being a lawyer is one of many tools in a larger movement to make the world more just. “The PJC is committed to diving deep into the issues and making a structural difference,” they said. With internships at the PJC and other legal service providers, Sam hopes eventually to work in public interest law in Baltimore. Before then, they will spend their last semester in a law school clinic representing clients, followed by two clerkships, one with Judge Paula Xinis on the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland and one with Judge Diana Motz on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.

While interning at the PJC has been a valuable educational experience, it is the sense of welcome here that most sticks with Sam. “The PJC lives its values,” they said. Sam described the staff’s warmth and desire to get to know them. They also highlighted how much it meant for the PJC to respect their gender identity, including using their pronouns, looking into making a gender-neutral bathroom available, and providing training on making the workplace more inclusive for transgender and nonbinary people. “When you’re constantly having to explain your gender identity to people, it’s nice when others take the initiative to make you feel welcome,” Sam said.

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