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Law grad joins College of Law as student development director

August 24, 2007

You can’t miss Tom Williams, a 6-foot-4-inch bear of a guy with salt-and-pepper hair, a ready grin and smiling blue eyes. And that’s a very good thing, especially for students just getting to know their way around the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law. Williams is the college’s new director of student development, replacing Michael Bossone, assistant dean of student life and development, who’s taken a one-year sabbatical.

Williams also will serve as the director of Project Excellence, a joint project of the College of Law and Barrett, the Honors College, which is designed to expose honors students to law courses and faculty.

Williams will act as a representative and ombudsman for students, meeting with each member of the incoming class, advising on course selection, addressing issues that students raise, and facilitating communication with faculty and administration.

He also will serve on the Meta Committee addressing the college’s curriculum and other projects the dean directs.

“He’s the perfect person for the position, for two reasons,” says Molly Weinstein, law student who met Williams in her first semester at ASU.

“One, he’s the easiest person to talk to, and two, he’s a professional who will keep things private.”

Williams is no stranger to law school, having just graduated from the college in May.

“I’m excited about all of it,” the 45-year-old Chandler father of two teenagers says of his new post. “I’m excited about being here and being with the students, continuing with the conversation as the saying goes.”

Williams, a San Francisco native whose bachelor’s and master’s degrees in math are from the University of California-San Diego, was a software developer for nearly 20 years before coming to law school. When his company was sold in 2003, Williams decided to take the LSAT, and found that, for a mathematician, the logic games portion was a snap.

He chose to stay put for law school because his children lived in the Valley, and the effervescence of professor Michael Berch, the then-admissions director, was undeniable.

From the beginning, Williams promised himself he would get the most of his law-school experience.

“I think what I enjoyed the most was the interaction in class, and if I had to give advice to students, that would be it – participate,” he says. “You learn differently when you’re talking and answering – and so few students volunteer for that – than you do when you’re writing and listening.”

Williams was ranked in the top 10 percent in the Class of 2007, graduating summa cum laude, and he also achieved the highest pro bono distinction by contributing more than 150 hours of service while in law school.

“He is smart, wise and kind,” says Mingyi Kang, who met Williams when they were first-year law students. “Tom is like the person who knows all and is willing to share his knowledge with just about anyone. Tom will go out of his way to be a students’ advocate and a bridge between students and the school.”

As a “mature” student, Williams says he may have had advantages in adjusting mentally to the rigors of law school and in having life experiences that younger peers perhaps did not. When professor Adam Chodorow talked about Form 1040s in a tax law course, Williams not only know what they were, he’d filled them out many times.

“My age kept me from being in their same world, but I had a lot of fun, and it was really interesting for me to be involved with people who were younger, but obviously very intelligent and interested in the world,” he says.

Patricia White, dean of the College of Law, says Williams is an outstanding choice for the ombudsman role.

“He is well-known to many students, because of his exceptional service on many law school committees, his pro bono activities, particularly with the Homeless Legal Assistance Project, and his service as a teaching fellow in Michael Berch’s undergraduate legal process course,” White says.

Williams was a thoughtful, well-prepared student to whom his peers gravitated, Chodorow says.

“Tom gave them kindly, come-to-Jesus type advice that I couldn’t give,” Chodorow says. “He was a wonderful asset to have in class and is perhaps an even better asset to have now that he’s finished law school. This position fits perfectly with his skill sets, his interests and his strengths.”

Weinstein says that Williams saved her when she was struggling to understand the material in her civil procedure course.

“The way he explained things to me, he gave it a bigger-picture view, and it was like the light went on,” says Weinstein, who credited Williams’ assistance with her raising her grade 11 points from the first midterm to the next. “He’s just a brilliant guy – but, in addition, he has this ability to talk to students on a one-to-one-level that I wasn’t comfortable doing with my professors. He’s the perfect sort of middleman.”

Williams mentored many other students, too, who often were referred by professors to receive help in everything from selecting courses to preparing for class. He also served on the curriculum committee as a student and will continue on staff in conversations about improving course offerings and professors’ schedules.

Williams says he is looking forward to helping students help themselves to succeed.

To that end, he wants students to know these three things:

• “It sounds trite, but the door to my office (room 101E in Armstrong Hall) is open for people to come in.”

• “When you bring a problem or issue to me, I will honor that. Not that I’ll necessarily agree or even solve it, but I will communicate it to the right people.”

• “I value people for what they contribute, and many people have the ability to contribute, not just the people who got 95 on the exam. That’s not my criteria.”

When not at the law school, Williams can be found hanging out with his children, enjoying fine wines (his mother, Shirley, who turns 80 this fall, owns a small vineyard in Sonoma County, Calif.) and traveling.