One thing is crystal clear after our conversation with Rhonda Wills, attorney and star of the new court show ‘Relative Justice With Judge Rhonda Wills.’From the time she was a small-town girl to her position now leading the highest esteemed courtrooms in the country, she doesn’t need your validation and never has.
Growing up in the small town of Winona, Texas, with a population of approx. 597, the importance of advocating for others is woven into her DNA. As one of five children, the confidence her family instilled in her fueled the pursuit of her dreams. Rhonda became the first person in her family to graduate from college and attend law school. Continuing to push boundaries, she formed the Wills Law Firm, PLLC nearly two decades ago. Since then, she has recovered over $100 million fighting for the rights of everyday Americans in their plight against corporate giants.
With an awareness of society’s injustices at an early age, Rhonda’s life mission has always been about fighting for justice, equality, and fairness. She plans to bring her passion for law and family to TV in her new show, Relative Justice.
Her Agenda recently spoke with Rhonda about her new TV show, how being the only Black woman in the room impacts her work and the most effective way to evoke change.
Her Agenda: I grew up watching Judge Judy who [helped me to] see assertive and strong women in the field of law. Considering your Southern upbringing, can you recall when you knew that being a lawyer was possible?
Rhonda Wills: I grew up really poor and was raised by my mom and grandmother. My mother, who raised us primarily on her own, had five children. She showed me that you could be an amazing mom while juggling two and sometimes three jobs. I also had a grandmother who was a hard worker and had ten children. So, this is sort of my legacy to be raised by strong women and I now have a daughter of my own and hope I am raising a strong woman as well.
I always knew that I was going to be a lawyer, I was always very interested in what was going on around the world. When I was nine years old, I read the book Roots: The Saga of an American Family, from cover to cover. I’ve always been someone who is interested in current events and things going on in our society and things that were unjust. I’ve always had a passion for righting wrongs and fighting for justice. I believed, even as a little girl, that I was going to grow up one day to be a lawyer. I saw that as the best way to make a difference and fight against injustice in the world. Even though I was the first person in my family to finish college, and the only one to attend law school, I always knew it was possible through reading books, amazing mentors, teachers, and counselors who were strong supporters of my dreams. And, of course, my mother and grandmother who are the greatest inspirations in my life.
Her Agenda: A lot of people say that the American justice system is broken. And, as someone who has been in the system representing people for decades, what is your perspective on that?
Rhonda Wills: I don’t believe that the American justice system is necessarily broken, but I do believe that it is fractured, and it can be improved. I’ve traveled all over the world and I will tell you that the justice system we have in America, in my opinion, is one of the best in the world. Though it is one of the best in the world, that by no means makes it a perfect system. I believe that it is a system that we need to continuously re-evaluate, continue to improve and continue to strive to make it the very best it can be.
Her Agenda: I know that you practice law in Texas and with the recent abortion ban there, so many people have a newfound interest in letting their voices be heard. How do you think more people, especially women and minorities, can voice their opinions and seek change in a country that doesn’t always consider their perspectives?
Rhonda Wills: First and foremost, the one thing we have in this country that many others don’t have is our right to vote. I believe that if we really want to make a change in this country we have to vote. We have to vote with our hearts and we have to vote with our convictions, whatever those may be. The wonderful thing about America is everyone has a voice and everyone has a right to be heard. The typical way that people are heard in this country is through the ballot box. So, if people really want to see change, we need to get out and vote and put people in office who are going to support whatever our political agenda is.
Her Agenda: I read that as of 2020, only 5% of lawyers are Black. During your process of handling a case, have you ever felt that your race has made someone question your reasoning or evidence?
Rhonda Wills: Black women are even less than five percent of lawyers in America. Black women are the minority of the minority. There are not many Black lawyers in this country and even fewer Black women lawyers in this country. I wouldn’t say that my reasoning or evidence has been questioned, but I have walked into a courtroom where I was the only Black woman in the entire courtroom and that can be a little daunting. But, my mentor who recently died, a man by the name of Broadus Spivey, took me under his wing and taught me a lot about being a trial lawyer and being a litigator. I believe that the law is the one area where we can absolutely break down both gender and color barriers.
Never let anything hold you back. Period.
A lot of [what makes you successful in this field] comes down to finding a good mentor who can teach you and train you how to be the very best lawyer that you can be. I have never been shy and I don’t get intimidated. When I walk into a room and I’m the only Black woman in the room, I simply smile and I go on in my work of representing my clients. I never ever allow anything to bother me, set me back, or intimidate me. That’s what I would consider other women to do, especially other Black women. I’ve litigated cases all over this country. I’m licensed to practice in California, Texas, and New York. Not only have I litigated in all of those states, but I’ve been admitted pro hac vice – a legal term for adding an attorney to a case in a jurisdiction in which he or she is not licensed to practice. I was the lead lawyer in a multi-district litigation matter that had a $20 million dollar settlement against Wells Fargo. I’ve been able to achieve a great deal and I’ve never ever allowed anything to hold me back. And, that would be my message to all women, especially Black women. Never let anything hold you back. Period.
Rhonda Wills: The amazing thing about Relative Justice is that it is unlike any other court TV show that you’ve ever seen. Relative Justice focuses on only disputes between family members. Every feud that you see will either be related by either blood, marriage, or children. For example, if you hire a contractor who comes and builds your fence incorrectly, and you sue them, that’s one thing. But, if that person is your brother-in-law, it takes on a whole different tone, drama, and complexity. Now, the guy who built your fence wrong is someone who you will see during holidays, church, family picnics. The cases that come on Relative Justice are a little more complex than the cases that come on most court shows because when you are dealing with family conflicts, they are based on more than just money. From handling hundreds of these cases already, just within season one, there’s something a lot deeper that goes on within them. There’s usually some underlying emotional turmoil or conflict, in addition to their financial dispute, which is what leads them to court.
The cases are extremely dynamic and there were some days when I was laughing so hard that I could barely get my judgment out. There were also some days when cases had so many emotions involved that I was on the verge of crying. There were some cases where people did such toxic things to their family members that I had to tell them how out of pocket they were and berate them. With this show, you will see a range of emotions, the cases are extremely dynamic, the people were endlessly fascinating, and this show was amazing for me as I was able to combine my knowledge of the law as a litigator of over 20 years, with family. I have 4 children of my own, I am one of five children, I have over 50 first cousins, and I come from a huge family. So, every single case was a situation that I could identify with in a way. I resolve not only the legal disputes but I also try to bring these families back together at the end.
I resolve not only the legal disputes but I also try to bring these families back together at the end.
Her Agenda: I read that you were admitted to argue before the Supreme Court and you were selected by Black Enterprise as one of the Top 10 Female Attorneys in the country. You previously mentioned that you always maintain confidence, but despite your accolades, do you ever experience imposter syndrome when walking into formidable spaces?
Rhonda Wills: No, I don’t. Though I grew up poorer than most people can imagine, I’ve been so blessed to have been raised by a huge family full of love, support, and encouragement. I have always had a lot of confidence because of my family who told me all of my life that I could do and be whatever I want. That’s how I try to raise my own children, by giving them all of the confidence in the world. That’s what I would encourage any mother to do regardless of her circumstances, to pour into her child and tell them they can do and be anything they want. Because I will tell you, it has carried me far. I’m a girl who grew up in a little dirt town and went on to do great things. Literally, I have traveled all over the world and have been admitted before the most prestigious courts including the United States Supreme Court. I’ve tried cases all over the country, I had a case in Canada, I’ve litigated all over. Every single time I walk into a courtroom, I walk in with confidence because I walk in knowing that I’ve worked hard, prepared, and I have always known that I can do and be whatever I want. I simply get myself prepared, walk in there, and don’t let anything stop me.
I’m a girl who grew up in a little dirt town and went on to do great things.
Her Agenda: I know that you are busy and working in law is overwhelming. How do you take a step back and how did you keep from feeling guilty about prioritizing self-care?
Rhonda Wills: I believe that you have to pour your own cup first because you can’t pour from an empty cup. I really try to get ‘Me Time’ and encourage every working mother to do that. I have four kids who keep me extremely busy, a husband, and a busy career that involves both practicing law and a TV show. One of my favorite things to do is spend time with my girlfriends, that is so important to just spend time with your girls who know you. I spend a lot of time at the beach and ride my bike along the beach for miles. Each morning that I wake up, I try to spend some time meditating and praying just to get myself centered for the day and be prepared. Even if it’s only five or ten minutes, it’s so important to get yourself centered in the morning. Every morning and every night, no matter how crazy your day is, you need to take some time just for yourself to handle all of the challenges you face. There is nothing harder than being a working mom because being a mom is a full-time job, and having a career is another full-time job, so you are literally working two full-time jobs.
[Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.]