Houston, we have a problem! If you haven’t heard of the groundbreaking unscripted legal docu-series “Sisters In Law,” stop what you’re doing and make plans to either DVR the premiere episode on Thursday, March 24th at 10 p.m. ET/PT (9 p.m. CT) or tune in online at www.wetv.com.
“Sisters In Law” is set in Houston, Texas, and follows the lives of a group of elite Black female attorneys (Jolanda “Jo” Jones, Vivian King, Rhonda Wills, Juanita Jackson, Tiye Foley and Monique Sparks) as they tackle some of the toughest cases in Texas. They leave no stone unturned in their quest to seek justice for their clients. The ladies are united by a professional and social group that they have christened, the “Sisters In Law.” Many of the women have been in each other’s lives for decades. Defying the odds within their predominately White male-dominated profession, the ladies’ common ground is their race, their gender, their ability to win cases and an intense passion for the law. Although they are close-knit, they often find themselves allies one minute and rivals the next. In this series premiere, viewers will witness how these women juggle demanding careers, their families, political aspirations and busy social calendars while trying to maintain their friendships. Forward Times had the pleasure of sitting down with five of the six “Sisters In Law” stars (Monique could not be present at the time of the interview), and the ladies were absolutely just as tenacious and witty as the sneak peek portrays them to be.
Sitting across from the fiery, eloquent ladies at the huge wooden conference room table felt more reminiscent of being a fly on the wall witnessing an important meeting reserved for attorneys, rather than interviewing reality TV stars. These women were poised and articulate.
If there is one thing these ladies could agree on, it was acknowledging the “sister” who coined the name “Sisters In Law.” Each of the five women confirmed it was Juanita Jackson who created the name, conceptualized the show and approached each of them individually to star in the newest hit reality TV show.
Jolanda Jones revealed she didn’t agree to appear on the show as quickly as the other ladies at first, but stated that Juanita was relentless. Jolanda shared, “The first time she [Juanita] contacted me was August of 2013, and by the time I called her back, it was December of 2013.”
In addition to their demanding careers and dedication to their clients, the ladies filmed for nine weeks (six days a week and fourteen hours a day). When asked if it was initially uncomfortable being constantly surrounded by cameras and putting their lives on display for the world to eventually see, Tiye Foley explained, “It was uncomfortable for me, initially. I’m a private person, so it was a little unusual and uncomfortable. And you start to feel a little anxious knowing that everyone can see exactly what you’re doing when you’re doing it. But I think over time, you start to forget about the cameras and it starts to feel a bit more natural.”
Tiye is a civil attorney who specializes in intellectual property and commercial litigation. She is the newest member in the established sisterhood, having just been introduced to the ladies last year.
Rhonda Wills revealed that allowing her clients to be filmed was initially uncomfortable. Rhonda shared, “I think the main thing was when we had to meet with our clients. That was, I think, the most uncomfortable, just because you’re not accustomed to having other people around when you meet with your clients. So that took a bit of adjusting. But that’s what makes the show so unique. There are a lot of reality shows; but our show is the only show where you will actually get to see attorneys meeting with their clients and seeing complex cases—civil cases, worth millions of dollars, criminal cases, where people’s lives are on the line. You will see murder cases, drug cases, so I think that’s what makes our show so unique.”
Rhonda is a civil attorney who specializes in class action lawsuits. While previously working at another law firm, she sued for sexual harassment and won a large settlement, which she used to open up her own successful civil litigation practice. A true dragon slayer, Rhonda has recovered more than $75 million fighting for the rights of everyday Americans against corporate giants and insurance companies.
Having been a contestant on the popular reality TV game show “Survivor,” Jolanda expressed that she wasn’t actually nervous about being filmed. She said, “The really weird thing was not talking to each other [the other ladies] because [the network] really wants authentic reactions.”
Vivian King, the self-proclaimed “matriarch” of the “sisters,” said the invasion of privacy was the most difficult thing for her to get used to. She shared, “There were cars parked everywhere outside of my home. We got to know [the camera crew] over time and then it was like we were friends with them. But at first, it was like twenty strangers in your bathroom and I would be waiting on them to leave so that I could use the bathroom before we filmed. Because I am the matriarch, I have to go a little bit more often than the other ladies.”
The entire room erupted with laughter as Vivian joked, once again, about her role as the “matriarch” within this dynamic group.
Vivian continued, “We eventually got used to it. We had to be on for nine weeks. It’s hard to be on for nine weeks; from seven in the morning to sometimes midnight. They would be texting us at eleven or twelve at night telling us where we have to be the next day.”
Jolanda joined in, saying, “And we also have courts telling us where we have to be sometimes.”
Juanita agreed and explained, “Yes, and that’s the difference between us and other shows, too; it’s that we really have jobs. We don’t just go on vacation and get filmed.”
Rhonda explained that the filming in addition to her ridiculously busy and demanding schedule was the most difficult thing for her to get used to. “So with me,” Rhonda began, “I travel all over the country. I have cases from the East Coast to the West Coast. I’m probably in New York and Los Angeles and San Francisco as much as I’m in Houston. So it was really tough to fit in six days a week of filming, fourteen hours a day and then tell them, ‘Hey guys, I’ve gotta fly off to the West Coast’. I’d be gone, literally twenty four hours and be filming soon as I stepped off the plane. I’d be in hair and makeup, ready to film.”
The conversation started to take a turn as the ladies began classifying the distinctions between their respective practices in the middle of the interview. As Jolanda, Juanita and Vivian talked about the immense pressure involved with dealing with criminal law, while knowing they hold their responsible for the lives and future of their clients, Rhonda made sure to draw a line of separation between her civil litigation practice and the criminal practices of those ladies.
Rhonda, who has very strong opinions about civil law versus criminal law, declared, “They’re putting criminal murderers back on the streets because these three lawyers are so phenomenal. I do something completely different. I do civil work. People come to me when they’ve been catastrophically injured, or they’ve had something horrible happen to them. They come to me because their lives have been shattered and it’s up to me to get them financial justice.”
With egos as big as Texas, it’s not surprising these women would disagree and bicker from time to time. However, it’s that perfect blend of unique personalities and chemistry which makes “Sisters In Law” so sensational.
When asked why they chose to join the cast, Juanita revealed: “I decided and came up with this idea and concept because reality TV is a fact of life. It’s not going anywhere. I was never a big reality TV watcher, but I would sometimes watch the shows and I was disappointed that to a certain degree, America had been idolizing these w
omen whose success came from sex tapes, who they married or who they divorced. I watched and I thought, there are plenty of successful women who make it themselves. They either pull themselves up through poverty, through tragedies, and I wanted young girls to have other options to idolize… And that’s why I created this show with the idea behind it. So that young girls can say, ‘I want to be a lawyer’ instead of, ‘I want to be a video girl’. I want to see the number of African American girls applying to law school go up.”
Jolanda shared, “I’m an activist. I’ve been an activist my whole life. My grandmother was an activist. My mother was an activist. My son is an activist. We’ve been knowing that Black Lives Matter as criminal defense lawyers. We see how they treat us differently. So I thought it would be a platform for people to listen. And I don’t think that there have been voices for the perceived underclass that spoke truth to power. So that was important to me.”
“So for me, Juanita is a very dear friend to me. And I did start off as a mentor friend with her. So when Juanita calls and asks me to do something, I do it. I told her I’d never even seen a reality show but if she thinks it’s a good idea, then I support [her] endeavor. So it’s completely Juanita’s idea and I love it. I, too, believe in speaking truth to power. I spent my own money creating a public access show that’s been around for four and a half years called “Truth & Justice with Vivian King”. Eighty percent of my calls come from mothers whose children are in prison for eighteen, twenty and fifty years; and they picked the wrong lawyer or they made the wrong decision. So, I couldn’t help these people because I’m a trial lawyer; but I wanted these mothers to have a platform to talk about what happened and to educate people about the criminal justice system.”
Rhonda was motivated to join the cast for a very different reason. “I have more of a unique reason”, Rhonda revealed. “So, I am worth millions with an ‘S’. I’ve been very blessed to be very successful. So when Juanita came to me with this, my immediate thought was, ‘I really don’t need this’. I turn down ninety percent of the clients who come to me. I’m very selective in the cases I take. But it was really more about when Juanita called me, we hadn’t talked in over ten years. There’s more that will be revealed on the show but Juanita and I hadn’t spoken in ten years and so when she called me about doing this project, it was kind of, for me, an opportunity for us to re-visit some things. So that was my real motivation.”
Both Rhonda and Juanita became visibly emotional and Juanita playfully warned her, “Don’t make me cry” as the other ladies comforted the two of them.
Tiye finished out the ‘Q and A’ by sharing why she decided to get involved in the show and humbly cited her impressive resume, “Mostly because I wanted to be a beacon of light to young girls. I wanted young girls to know that you can go to Rice [University] and get that Engineering degree. You can go to Rice and get that Spanish degree as well. You can get your law degree. You can be a leader on the Board of the NAACP and you can do it at a young age. You can do it before you’re thirty years old. So I wanted [young girls] to have someone to look up to.”
For sneak peeks, deleted scenes and photo galleries from the “Sisters In Law” cast, visit www.wetv.com.
“Sisters In Law” is set to premiere on Thursday, March 24 at 9:00 p.m. CT.