Student Profile: Max Williams, From the Stage to the Courtroom

Max Williams once dreamed of a theatrical career. Now a second-year UT Law student, he hopes to bring about positive change in the world by taking on a different role.

Williams earned his undergraduate degree in theater, with minors in dance and music. He was preparing for an MFA program in New York, then a life in professional theater as a performer and director.

Then his mother had a stroke. As an only child, Williams could not entertain the thought of leaving his father behind as her sole caretaker, so he chose to remain in Knoxville.

Thinking back to that time in his life, Williams quotes a Yiddish proverb: “We plan and God laughs.”

Math and medicine

Unable to pursue a full-time career in theater in Knoxville, Williams decided to go back to school.

Turning his attention to a pre-med program, he earned a second degree in mathematics and found work at a hospital — but several significant life events again altered his plans.

Williams had a son. Then, as he worked to fulfill the last few prerequisites for medical school, his mother died and the COVID pandemic hit. With the healthcare system in turmoil, Williams realized that he didn’t want to spend the rest of his life working in that field.

Again at a crossroads, Williams remembered how he had enjoyed the challenge of logic and reasoning in college courses and began to consider the law as a possible career path. As a lawyer, Williams knew he could merge his strengths in analytical thinking with performance skills from his arts background. More importantly, it was a meaningful field through which he could help other people.

Building a new passion

 “From the first day at UT Law, I knew I had found my place. It was everything I loved about academia, but with a potential to help people and change lives. After a long and crazy journey, I had finally found my home.”

During his 1L year, several opportunities steered Williams toward a law specialty. Foremost was his participation in the 1L Advocacy Competition, in which he won first place for his opening statement before a panel of judges. He was subsequently selected for a mock trial team for his 2L year.

“I never expected to accomplish either of those things, and they really helped me choose an advocacy track concentration,” he says.

Those experiences have motivated Williams to pursue a career in criminal law after graduation, although immigration law is another area of interest.

He also credits the College of Law Career Center, and Carol Anne Long in particular, for connecting him to the Knox County Criminal Court, where he served as a summer judicial intern for the Honorable Hector Sanchez.

Ensuring a legacy

The program’s intense time requirements pose the biggest challenge for Williams.

“I’m a single dad, and I work,” he says. “Time is not on my side in the way it is for many of my colleagues. That’s my challenge. My son is my biggest supporter, but when I’m with him it’s easy to lose track of time, and law school is intense when it comes to time requirements. I’ve gotten much better at planning ahead.”

Family and his future legacy are foremost on Williams’s mind as he works to complete his JD. While he still nurtures artistic passions on the side, he looks forward to stepping out on a different stage — one where he will use his speaking and reasoning skills in pursuit of justice.

“I really want to do something meaningful with my life,” he says. “I want to leave a legacy in this world that my son can be proud of. Very few fields of study allow you to live up to your potential and effect meaningful change in the world. Law gives me the opportunity to do that.”