A Directly Impacted Reformer
Few teenagers arrested for underaged drinking use it as a springboard to dedicate their lives to systemic change and service. Will Knight is the exception.
Will Knight was 18 years old when he sat in a Georgia jail cell, contemplating how he ended up there and what it meant for his future. His mind flashed back to his biological father, who he last saw when he was 4 years old, in Colombia -- a victim of the drug war being handcuffed and being carted off off to an American prison, never to see his family again. Will could have easily distinguished his own situation -- he had only had one beer, his BAC was only a .02, he wasn't the slightest bit impaired, it wasn't fair, etc. -- he didn't. Instead, he vowed to write a different ending for his life than his father had. And to dedicate his life to the law.
Seven years later, after graduating #2 in his class at the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law at Arizona State University, Will began his legal career by focusing on systemic change. As an associate at Aiken Schenk Hawkins & Ricciardi, P.C., Will threw himself into Arizona's ground-breaking marriage equality litigation -- helping his firm leadership secure a federal court's ruling that Arizona's ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional.
Representing the Disempowered
Having tasted systemic reform early in his legal career, Will grew hungry for more. Eager to work in the criminal justice system that had such an impact on his life, he left his commercial practice at Aiken Schenk for the white collar criminal group at national law firm Ballard Spahr. Will threw himself into criminal practice, representing well-resourced defendants in cases of complex financial fraud. After honing his skills at exposing deficiencies in governmental financial fraud investigations, Will gave up his six-figure salary and kush corporate benefits to enter the front lines of the fight for access to justice: He became a Public Defender.
At the Maricopa County Public Defender's office Will leveraged his knowledge of financial crimes to offer elite service to indigent clients facing life-altering allegations of financial crimes. He quickly gained a reputation among both judges and prosecutors as a thoughtful, creative, and zealous advocate for his clients. But, coming from one of the most prestigious and well-resourced law firms in the State, Will couldn't help but be frustrated by the limitations built into the public defense system: lack of funding for investigations, impossibly large caseloads, and a justice system inherently stacked against criminal defendants combined to often left his public defense clients with just a fraction of the options available to his former private clients.
In 2020, Will decided to do attack these inequities from the systemic level, running for Maricopa County Attorney. Formally endorsed by movement organizations ranging from Mass Liberation Arizona to the Latino Victory Fund, and Planned Parenthood, Will was widely credited with injecting issues of racial justice and police accountability into the race in ways that had never before been discussed in Maricopa County. And although his bid was ultimately unsuccessful, Will built deep trust relationships in the community -- resulting in him being offered a post-campaign position as an organizer for Mass Liberation Arizona, where he worked until transitioning his civil rights and criminal defense practices to The People's Law Firm in February 2021.
Will continues to exercise every tool at his disposal to impact the system and future of justice in Arizona. He continues to advise non-profits and community organizations. He serves as an Adjunct Professor at ASU Law and a host of judicial and legal reform committees. And, most recently, Will completed a six-month campaign to amend existing rules that will permit all arrested people in Arizona to have access to legal representation at their initial bond hearings -- a revolution in access to justice whose impact will likely be felt for decades.
"The system isn't broken. It's operating exactly how it was designed. The goal isn't repair. It is reimagination." - Steve Benedetto
State of Arizona (admitted in 2013)
United States District Court for the District of Arizona
The People's Law Firm (February 2021-present)
Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law at Arizona State University (2017-present)
Will Knight Law, PLLC (October 2019-February 2021)
Maricopa County Public Defender (April 2016 to October 2019)
Ballard Spahr, LLP (March 2015-March 2016)
Aiken Schenk Hawkins & Ricciardi P.C. (March 2013-March 2015)
Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law at Arizona State University (magna cum laude, J.D., 2013)