Northern Illinois University College of Law alumna Sonni Choi Williams (’99) was elected Third Vice-President of the Illinois State Bar Association (ISBA). Sonni is now in succession to become the first woman of color, first person of Asian American heritage, first person of Korean heritage, and the sixth woman president of the ISBA in its 144-year history. In 2024, she will lead the largest bar organization in the state with over 30,000 members. She will also become the fifth NIU College of Law graduate to serve as president.
“I am honored and humbled to have been elected Third Vice-President of one of the premier and largest state bar associations in the U.S. I ran for this position, not for myself, but because of others coming up behind me looking for inspiration,” said Williams who also thanked her family and supporters who helped her along the way. “It has always been my hope that the ISBA reflect – at all levels – the communities that we serve, that we represent, and that we are from.”
Sonni is the city attorney for the City of Lockport. Previously, she served as the deputy corporation counsel for the City of Peoria, where she worked for the City’s Legal Department for more than 17 years, starting as the assistant corporation counsel.
“The NIU Law community is very proud of Sonni and her outstanding accomplishments, especially this most recent historic achievement,” remarked NIU Law Dean Cassandra L. Hill. “She has always been a dedicated member of the NIU Law community, and she serves as a vital resource on important issues to the law school, especially on diversity.”
Another notable accomplishment is that Sonni will become the fifth NIU College of Law graduate to serve as president of the ISBA. Past alumni presidents include Chery I. Niro (’80) from 1999-2000, Hon. Richard Felice (’79) from 2014-2015, Hon. Vincent F. Cornelius (’89) from 2016-2017, and Hon. James F. McCluskey (’79) from 2018-2019. Cheryl was the second woman and Judge Cornelius was the first African American to serve as ISBA Presidents.
Sonni is also an active alum of the NIU and College of Law communities. In October 2020, she was elected Vice-President of the NIU College of Law Board of Visitors. Sonni has served on NIU search committees, and she recently moderated a one-on-one conversation with U.S. Congresswoman Robin Kelly, an NIU alumna (’04), which was hosted by the NIU College of Business. Sonni received the 2020 NIU College of Law Alumni of the Year Award and the 2006 Young Alumni of the Year Award for her career achievements, exceptional leadership, devotion to the public good, and dedication to the NIU College of Law.
She has continued to be tapped for leadership positions throughout her career. Sonni was appointed to serve as chair of the ISBA Local Government Law Section Council for 2020-2021, vice-chair for the 2020-2021 ISBA Standing Committee on Racial & Ethnic Minorities and the Law, and to the Illinois Bar Foundation’s Board of Directors for the 3rd District. In June 2020, Sonni was also elected to the Board of Directors for the Asian American Bar Association of Chicago and the Korean-American Bar Association of Chicago. She has been the past chair of the Peoria County Bar Association (PCBA) Diversity Committee; PCBA Young Lawyers Committee; PCBA Lincoln Memorial Banquet Committee; ISBA Standing Committee on Racial and Ethnic Minorities and the Law as its Chair; and PCBA Standing Committee on Mentoring.
Sonni was appointed by the Illinois Supreme Court to the Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism from 2005 to 2016 and was appointed and still serves as a Chair member of the Hearing Board for the Illinois Attorney Registration & Disciplinary Commission, presiding over attorney disciplinary cases. She is a member of the American Bar Association; Illinois State Bar Association; Will County Bar Association; Will County Women’s Bar Association; Korean-American Bar Association; and National Asian Pacific American Bar Association. Sonni has served two terms on the ISBA Assembly and has served two terms as an ISBA Board of Governor. She is also on the Boards of Prairie State Legal Services, Illinois Institute for Continuing Legal Education and the Illinois Local Government Attorneys Association.
She has also been recognized for her outstanding contributions to the legal community. Sonni received the 2008 Illinois Institute of Local Government Law Annual Achievement Award; the 2010 ISBA Board of Governors Award; and the 2014-2015 ISBA Diversity Leadership Award.