Sanctuary & Sisterhood


In 1997, Ruthie White (Jones Day) realized that there was no organized group of African American female lawyers to turn to when she needed to deal with issues affecting African American women practicing law. Before choosing law as a second career, Ruthie was a human resources manager for a major corporation and knew the benefits of being in fellowship with individuals who have similar backgrounds and similar experiences. As a new associate at Fulbright & Jaworski at the time, it was clear that there were few African American lawyers (let alone African American female lawyers) in large law firms. She realized that others, like herself, would appreciate a place of refuge to deal with issues that present itself in such an environment. She therefore invited a few friends to lunch to discuss the idea of creating an organization for sisters-in-law (African American female lawyers). The attendees at this initial luncheon (DTG founders) included: Sharon Butcher (Enron), Shauna Clark (Fulbright & Jaworski), Judge Vanessa Gilmore (U.S. District Court), Kimberly James (Bracewell & Giuliani), Associate Dean Helen Jenkins (South Texas College of Law), Kenetta Joseph (Shell Oil Company), Clara Meek (Vinson & Elkins), Professor Shelby Moore (South Texas College of Law) and Kimberly Stith (Waste Management). All of the attendees at the founding luncheon loved the idea. Kimberly James even paid for the luncheon! 

The founders all wanted an organization that did not add stress to their already busy lives but provided an opportunity to develop lasting professional friendships based on support and encouragement. They declared that the organization would never have officers or by-laws. All members would have input into the direction of the organization and, in addition to actively practicing law, members were only required to rotate responsibility for coordinating each luncheon. In line with the goal of simplicity and to ensure that the size of the group was manageable and did not require “work”, the founders decided to limit membership to sisters-in-law who practiced in the Downtown Houston area, hence “The Downtown Group.” With a downtown practice area, the founders believed that membership would consist of approximately 25 members. 

Surprisingly, through word-of-mouth, 44 African American female lawyers practicing in the downtown area attended the first official DTG luncheon! Three African American female judges were on the dais for this first luncheon: Judge Vanessa Gilmore, Judge Belinda Hill and Judge Clarease Yates. More than  70 sisters-in-law attended the next luncheon, and shortly afterwards, sisters-in-law practicing outside the downtown area asked to attend the luncheons as guests. 

In 2000, DTG members voted and agreed to expand membership to include sisters-in-law practicing outside the downtown area. Today, DTG’s membership has grown to more than 300 African American female lawyers practicing in Harris County and its surrounding suburbs. Our members include judges, law professors, district attorneys, city attorneys, in-house counsel, outside counsel, solo practitioners and governmental attorneys. 

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