What may seem to be a monumental undertaking is simply yet another exciting challenge for Sam Linnet, the young former law clerk who is taking over for longtime attorney Ned Williamson.
Linnet, 28, ended a one-year tenure as former 5th District Judge Robert Elgee’s law two weeks ago, and he began a two-week transition period at Williamson’s practice last week. In what became a serendipitous exchange between the bar and the bench, the opportunity for Linnet to fill the void left by Williamson arose when Williamson was appointed as the judge to fill Elgee’s vacancy.
This week, Linnet and Williamson are meeting individually with Williamson’s clients, to explain the transition and see which clients choose to stay with the practice. The contract for Williamson to serve as Hailey city attorney is a separate matter, strictly between Williamson and the city, and it will be up to the city to find another attorney.
“Ned’s got a well-established practice, he’s got a lot of great clients, he’s got a legal secretary that’s been working for him for 15 years, and I think he wants to provide some continuity for all of them,” Linnet said. “And he asked me if I’d be interested in essentially stepping into his shoes and providing that continuity. As a young attorney, that kind of opportunity is exceptionally rare.”
The move to private practice after already having the sought-after experience of serving as a law clerk in district court is yet another step in Linnet’s blossoming career—one fueled by a passion for helping others solve problems that they can’t solve alone.
But Linnet is no stranger to facing a massive task ahead. An accomplished backcountry skier, mountaineer and ultra-endurance runner, Linnet completed a first-ever—to his knowledge—three-day ski traverse of the Lost River Range in June, summitting and skiing seven peaks greater than 12,000 feet in elevation from Mount Borah to Lost River Peak. Linnet and a partner researched the trip for nine months, executing it on a Live Your Dream grant from the American Alpine Club. Just four days after finishing the ski traverse in blizzard conditions, he raced the 108-kilometer, off-road River of No Return Endurance Run in Challis.
“Skiing brought me to Idaho 10 years ago and remains one of my favorite things to do in the entire world,” Linnet said. “I spend as much time as I can in the mountains.”
Born in Milwaukee, Wis., but raised in California, Linnet moved to Idaho after graduating from high school to attend College of Idaho on a ski racing scholarship, and he later walked onto the track and field team. On the track and field team, Linnet met Molli, now 29, whom he married in August 2016. But that was part of a then-unforeseeable future for the young skier and mountaineer studying environmental studies and conservation biology, which is where his interest in law began.
Linnet said he pursued a degree in environmental studies “because I was interested in environmental issues and just how the world works, and what I saw were a lot of environmental problems, which was interesting and motivating, and I felt that the tools to solve them were more on the legal and political side.”
With a bachelor’s degree in hand, Linnet went straight to the University of Idaho in pursuit of a law degree and a master’s in environmental science. By pursuing the degrees concurrently, he was able to achieve both in a total of four years. During his time at the University of Idaho, Linnet worked for about 18 months with the Nez Perce Tribe office of legal counsel, handling a wide range of issues that included tribal sovereignty, natural resources and environment, secured transactions and business, employment and some criminal procedure.
With the tribe, Linnet was exposed firsthand to “kind of the whole gamut [of law], which was a great experience,” he said.
Eight years after graduating from high school, Linnet had a law degree, a bachelor’s, a master’s and real-world experience, and he took an unusual path for a 26-year-old poised to enter the world of law: He and Molli spent a year travelling Europe, first through Western Europe, but then through Turkey and into the nation of Georgia, where they spent the winter.
“My two requirements for where we spent the winter were that we had good food and tall mountains,” Linnet said. “It was one of the best choices I’ve ever made.”
They arrived in Georgia around Christmas and stayed for three months, living in an unheated building and working at a bed-and-breakfast in a UNESCO World Heritage Site town in exchange for a place to stay. And the backcountry skiing—when they weren’t serving guests—was spectacular, he said.
It was in Georgia that Linnet received a call from Elgee, with whom Linnet interviewed after graduating from the University of Idaho. At the time of the interview, Linnet was about to travel the world and Elgee needed a law clerk to start immediately, but the two agreed to stay in touch. Nearly a year later, the clerk whom Elgee had hired was departing and the timing was perfect: Linnet wrapped up his travels and headed back to the U.S. to take the bar exam and work as Elgee’s law clerk, a job he began in August 2016.
“It really is a pretty common post-law-school position that can be kind of difficult to find or to get, but the benefit is that every district court case that has come in front of Judge Elgee in the past year is a case that I’ve been involved with,” Linnet said. “Criminal and civil cases that span the whole spectrum of the law, I’ve been involved in a part of those.”
Linnet said his tenure as a law clerk not only gave him valuable experience, but that law clerks are vital aids to the judges they work with.
“My job [was] to help prepare the judge for court, help research contentious legal issues in cases and prepare those for the judge. Law clerks help write decisions, advising and discussing with the judge,” Linnet said. “With a law clerk, he doesn’t have to operate in a vacuum. He has someone else to bounce ideas off of.”
That mutually beneficial experience is something Linnet believes gave him a wealth of otherwise-unattainable experience before going into private practice.
“It’s an amazing experience, because instead of going straight into law, you get to watch attorneys do things well and you get to watch attorneys do things not well,” as well as seeing what judges do and don’t find persuasive, Linnet said. “There’s nothing like having good people to watch to prepare you.”
That preparation will soon be put to use as Linnet takes the helm of a law practice. However, his drive to practice law is not rooted in personal ambition, but in a passion for solving problems and helping others, he said.
“Studying law has really provided me the tools to be a problem-solver for people. I think people call attorneys and use attorneys when they have problems that they don’t know how to solve themselves,” he said. “At the end of the day, it’s that ability to solve problems that would otherwise remain problems for them.”
And with this practice, Linnet said he and Molli are in the Wood River Valley for the long haul.
“I’m so excited and it’s going to be a crazy adventure,” he said. “It’s going to be a lot of hard work, but that’s OK, most good things are.”