Lawyers Foley (’04) and Williams (’02) journey from storied cloisters to Fulbright Tower

Alumni Lea Williams (‘02) and Tiye Foley (‘04)  hadn’t seen each other since William’s high school graduation; over ten years later, they had an unexpected reunion on an elevator at Fulbright Tower. The two discovered that the different law firms they worked at shared the same building.

“We’ve gotten to know each other all over again and talk about common themes in our professional and personal lives,” Foley said.

Despite the slight age difference between Williams and Foley, the two knew each other at St. John’s because they were on the JV and varsity cheer teams together.

“I got to know her just by being a minority student,” Foley said. “You want to look around and get to know someone who is going through a similar experience.”

Foley became an associate attorney at Baker Donelson in June 2015. Williams has been working at Norton Rose Fulbright in Houston since August 2015.

As a compliance attorney, Williams works to resolve potential conflicts of interest between her firm and others.

I help monitor compliance, contracts, and ethics of all the lawyers in this international firm,” Williams said. “I help to ensure our firm is protected and makes ethical decisions.”

Foley is a civil attorney specializing in intellectual property, a field that involves the protection of people’s ideas, copyrightable works and patented inventions. She saw intellectual property as a way to merge her academic and legal interests.

Being one of three or four African Americans in my grade, I was nervous because St. John’s was a new environment.

“I still had this really strong love for math and science, and I thought it would be really interesting to apply that to my legal career. That is what the intellectual property field is,” Foley said. “People like to say it’s nerdy, but it’s fun, dynamic and constantly changing.”

In high school, Williams wrote for the Review, led the Student Affairs Council as vice president, and founded the school’s diversity council. Her peers considered her “Most Likely to Become a Supreme Court Justice.”

“My parents are not affluent.  They made a lot of sacrifices to send me to one of the top college preparatory schools in the country. I am very grateful to my parents for providing me with this amazing educational journey,” Williams said. “Attending St. John’s gave me early exposure to an incredible learning environment. I learned many life lessons that helped prepare me for my work today.”

Foley also enjoyed her years in high school, but initially felt nervous.

“I came from a typical middle class family, a big difference from the lifestyle a lot of students lived at St. John’s,” Foley said. “Being one of three or four African Americans in my grade, I was nervous because St. John’s was a new environment. I quickly learned the students were so sweet, accepting and curious about me and my background.”

Williams attended University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and later went to law school at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

“I was the first in my family to attend law school, so I did not have the career guidance from a trusted family member who could help me navigate the process,” Williams said.

Foley attended Rice University for five years, where she made connections with people in the legal field. In 2010, she went to law school at the University of Texas in Austin. Like Williams’ parents, Foley’s parents are not lawyers, but her St. John’s experience was part of what focused her career towards law.

“Being exposed to another level of professionalism and a variety of careers empowered me and gave me the support I needed to move forward,” Foley said.

The trailer for Sisters-in-Law.

Williams recalls that her typical law school workload involved reading up to a thousand pages of material and briefing more than 12 cases a night.

“Emotionally, law school was a labor of love. It was rigorous and required a lot of personal and financial sacrifice, but I am eternally grateful for the experience,” Williams said.  

Foley was brought into an experience different than that of most lawyers. She stars in the reality TV show  “Sisters-in-Law,” which chronicles the legal and personal lives of six African American attorneys in Houston. The show’s first season premiered in March 2015 with eight one-hour episodes.

Foley is also drawn to fashion and currently manages her blog, “Fashion de Jure.” The blog not only showcases her personal style but also covers Tiye’s thoughts on ethics and legal issues within the fashion industry.

“I’m not able to dedicate as much time as I’d like to Fashion de Jure, but we make time for the things we love,” Foley said. “I enjoy exploring my creative side, so I always find at least some time each week to manage Fashion de Jure.”

Although Williams always knew she wanted to be a lawyer, she advises high school students not to tie themselves to a career too soon.

“Be fearless and don’t be afraid to fail. That’s how you learn. Your career goals and ambitions may change over time and that is okay,” Williams said.

Tiye also advises students to take their time and explore what truly interests them.

“Choosing a career can be difficult given the sea of options, but doing something you love day to day will lead to happiness and success,” Foley said.