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Edward Bennett Williams
(1920 - 1988)


Edward Bennett Williams believed passionately in the Sixth Amendment right to counsel and worked tirelessly on behalf of many public figures accused of crime. Williams, who began his legal career as an insurance defense attorney, ultimately became one of the first “Superlawyers” in the United States. He won cases for clients as varied as Jimmy Hoffa and John B. Connally, the former Secretary of the Treasury charged with Watergate-related crimes.

Williams worked long, hard hours to prepare for jury trials and is widely credited for announcing the cardinal rule of cross-examination: “Do not ever ask a question without knowing the answer beforehand!”  His courtroom tactics were legendary and lawyers, reporters and even other clients often sat in to watch Williams try a case.  He would sum up his cases to the jury without any notes or charts and speak to them from his heart and soul.

Portrait of Edward B. Williams
Edward B. Williams. 16" x 21". 2017. Collection of the artist. Montreal, Canada.

Early Life and Education

Williams was born in Hartford, CT, graduated from Holy Cross College, and joined the army. However, due to injuries from a plane crash, he was discharged from service and applied to study law at Georgetown University. There, he clerked for the Washington law firm Hogan & Hartson. While Williams had originally planned to return to Connecticut to enter politics, he was so enthralled by the trials he sat in on during this time that he decided to go into trial practice himself.

Legal Career

Often called “the master of the calculated theatrical gesture,” Williams believed that total, absolute preparation was the key to winning in court. During his career, Williams represented both the famous and infamous in trial, including the leader of the Teamsters union Jimmy Hoffa and Congressman Adam Clayton Powell, who were accused of bribery and tax evasion. Legend has it that Williams had the boxer Joe Louis give Hoffa a hug during a trial recess, in complete sight of the mostly black jury. Hoffa was acquitted.

Williams and his partner Paul Connolly represented many other unpopular and polarizing clients, including: Senator Eugene McCarthy; Colonel Oliver North; and John Hinckley, Jr., who was famously found not guilty by reason of insanity of the charge of attempted murder of President Reagan.

Williams and his partner represented many...polarizing clients, including: Senator Eugene McCarthy; Colonel Oliver North; and John Hinckley, Jr.

Williams was adamant about the Sixth Amendment right to counsel in criminal cases, and disliked the fact that many imputed his clients’ guilt to him. In his book One Man’s Freedom, Williams wrote that, “only the lawyer is suspect if he advises someone in defense of his liberty.”

Legacy

Williams died in 1988 and is survived by his wife, Attorney Agnes Neill Williams and seven children.

The Washington, D.C. based law firm Williams founded with his Georgetown law student Paul Connolly is one of the largest, most powerful firms in the world. The practice currently employs 370 attorneys and represents individuals, corporate clients and international governments.

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"The credit belongs to the one who is actually in the arena."

Theodore Roosevelt

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