By Joel Delgado ’12, MS ’17
Growing up, Julia Williams was told there were certain things that she couldn’t do simply because she was a girl.
At a career day in elementary school, Williams expressed that she wanted to be a Supreme Court justice one day. But one of the young boys in her class told her that job wasn’t for girls. Girls couldn’t be judges or presidents, the boy said.
But that never stopped her.
It didn’t stop her from pursuing a law degree from FIU, and graduating in 2016 with honors. It didn’t stop her becoming one of the state’s highest achievers on the Florida Bar Exam in April. And it didn’t stop her from becoming a Judge Advocate General in the U.S. Air Force.
In fact, in many ways it is what inspired her to pursue a career practicing law in the military. Williams comes from a long line of men and women who have served in the armed forces, and she is now following in their footsteps while also forging her own path.
“It hurts me to the core that people are told on a daily basis that they can’t do something they are fully capable of doing for the sole reason of their gender,” Williams says. “I saw that the best way to change that was to get involved in the lawmaking processes because that is where the base of our society is created and reflected.”
Her exam performance and exemplary academic career garnered recognition from the Third District Court of Appeals, which invited her to deliver an address last month at the court’s Spring Ceremony for the Induction of Candidates for Admission to the Florida Bar.
Williams was unable to give the speech because the Air Force had just assigned her to report to Tinker Air Force Base, located outside of Oklahoma City, OK. She will be stationed there for the next two years as she begins her career as a JAG officer. If she had given the speech, she says she would have talked about embracing the pressure that comes with the privilege of practicing law.
“The pressure we feel studying for the Bar, and the pressure we will continue to feel as attorneys is a privilege,” Williams says. “We are in a position to help ourselves and others. Because we are involved in the law, we have opportunity to make our communities better wherever we are. We should embrace that pressure and do the best we can.”
A Miami native, Williams went to a small community college in Alabama on a softball scholarship before pursuing her undergraduate studies at Florida State University, graduating in 2012 with a major in English literature.
She then moved back to Miami, and got into FIU Law in 2013. One of the biggest draws of the program for Williams was its flexibility, offering her opportunities to study abroad and broaden her educational experience.
Williams studied in Spain, learning about the inner workings of the European Union’s legal system and how it operates in comparison to the U.S. system at the University of Seville. She spent a semester at Oxford University in England, studying English law and how it impacted and helped shape the U.S. legal system as it stands today.
During the Spring 2015 semester, Williams clerked for Florida Supreme Court Justice James E.C. Perry, researching cases that were set to appear before the highest court of the state; she helped write drafts of opinions on various cases.
She even got to travel to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to witness the trial of some of the terrorists involved in the September 11, 2001 attacks.
“FIU let me branch out so I could experience and participate in a number of cool programs and experiences that I couldn’t have gotten elsewhere,” Williams says.
A pair of classes she took at FIU helped clarify her career path, and fuel her passion for civil rights law, specifically in relation to gender issues and national security law. One was an introductory course on military justice taught by FIU Law professor Eric Carpenter.
Carpenter, who served as a helicopter pilot in the Army and later as supervising defense counsel in the Army JAG Corps, is also the faculty advisor for FIU Law’s Veterans and Military Affairs Law Student Association. Williams was one of the founding members and president for the organization, which helps student veterans who are struggling to transition into a new environment.
In Williams, Carpenter saw all the qualities necessary for an aspiring JAG officer: a dedication to serving her country, a willingness to take on leadership among her peers and incredible work ethic.
“Everything she does, she does to the best that it can be done,” Carpenter says. “Being a JAG officer is 50 percent being an attorney and 50 percent being a leader and she has all the tools to be both. She is the kind of person a commander wants to be around.”