Rhonda McLean

Hometown: Smithfield, North Carolina
Undergrad: Aurora University, 1972
Current Job: Deputy General Counsel, Time Inc.
YLS year: J.D. 1983
Clerkship: Judge Anna Diggs Taylor, Eastern District of Michigan


Did you always know that you wanted to be an attorney?

No, not at all. My parents are retired music teachers, so I always thought I’d be a classical musician. I studied piano for 16 years and I am a mezzo soprano, but I couldn’t justify having a degree in music when there was so much going on around me—the wars, women’s rights movement, civil rights movement, etc. After college, I became very active in a local community: helping laypeople involved in community action comply with federal programs and leading training programs all over the country. I learned that lawyers were involved in leading nearly every kind of social change and I wanted to make change. Even when I started law school, I wasn’t sure I would become a lawyer. I just wanted to have the legal training and education to be able to understand and interact with lawyers. I thought I wanted to run the Commission on the Status of Women.

How did you decide you wanted to do a clerkship after graduation?

I didn’t learn about clerkships until my 2L spring when YLW brought back a lot of women clerks at different levels, and everyone kept saying it was too late to apply. But Professor Harlon Dalton encouraged me to apply anyway, and I looked specifically for women judges who were YLS graduates. I was invited to interview with the Hon. Anna Diggs Taylor of the Eastern District of Michigan my 2L summer. I had to borrow money to go, but I knew I wanted to pursue it as soon as I met her.

What did you think of your clerkship experience?

It was the best thing I could have done. I was involved in so many aspects of the federal judicial system, including helping with jury selection and voir dire. I was really able to see the intricacies and frailties of the legal system from an extraordinarily intimate vantage point. It was also life changing to see a black female YLS graduate who was brilliant and created her own path. I’m still close to Judge Taylor; in fact, she has been a part of every major job decision I’ve made since my clerkship. When I finished, I had eight job offers all over the country without having done a single interview just because they were looking for clerks.

How did you get to where you are today as a Deputy General Counsel of Time Inc.?

After the clerkship, I joined a New York corporate litigation boutique—which was later acquired by Morrison & Foerster—for three years. For someone new to the city without any private sector experience, this was very difficult for me. But, it gave me great training, direct client interaction, and a lot of trial court experience, which was what the Federal Trade Commission was looking for when they hired me in 1988. I was there for eleven years and a manager for nine years, and I loved working on consumer protection and antitrust matters. By the time I left, I supervised more than thirty people, including staff attorneys, investigators, administrative staff, law student interns and volunteers. My colleagues and I prosecuted individuals and companies engaged in consumer fraud and/or anti-competitive conduct throughout the United States, shutting down fraudulent businesses and clawing back illegally gained profits to return to consumers wherever possible. It was in this job that I developed the expertise that I use in my current job. I learned a lot of advertising law, and laws regarding data privacy, data security and regulatory compliance. I was recruited to Time Inc. in 1999 by someone who had worked with me at the FTC years earlier.

What responsibilities does your current job include?

My responsibilities fall into three major categories: straight legal practice, management, and professional development. As an advertising and consumer marketing attorney, I evaluate new business development concepts and conduct legal risk analyses, help establish domestic and international company standards and policies for consumer marketing materials and methodologies with a focus on electronic marketing matrices, identify and resolve consumer data privacy promotional issues, and keep clients informed regarding the status of federal, state, and municipal legislation that might apply to their business practices. My clients are the 200 plus consumer marketing personnel who sell Time, Inc. products in the United States and Canada. Of course, I also assist in-house litigators as appropriate and hire and work with outside counsel as needed. As part of my management responsibilities, I oversee one third of our law department, including all of the non-lawyer staff. And on the professional development front, I arrange for opportunities for our entire department and think about how to evolve our skills to match the landscape today and going forward.

What is it like to be in publishing at this time?

It’s exciting and scary. We are on the cutting edge of delivering our content across multiple platforms, including print and digital devices. What we’re all trying to figure out is how to leverage our content and attract advertising partners for all of our products, old and new.  There are more new digital platforms surfacing every day, including Pinterest, Instagram, Foursquare and Yelp, to name only a few. When I look at advertising campaign ideas, I need to think about the appropriateness for the client, not just whether it’s legal or not. There are a lot of requirements, such as those from the Federal Trade Commission and state Attorneys General, and I need to think about how they might apply to every medium, every app, and every device where our advertisements might be posted or published. There are not very many laws on point just yet, so often I must analogize from laws that are on the books to determine the best course for our company to take.


What activities were you involved with at Yale Law School?

I was very active in Yale Law Women, the Black Law Students Association, and the Green Haven Prison Project. I wanted to be practical and see how we could use our education to help the New Haven community, so the BLSA members and I did a number of community service oriented activities; for example, we worked in a soup kitchen at a church on Dixwell Avenue. In addition, I worked as a student assistant for the Dean of Admissions. I saw a need for greater recruitment at historically black colleges and universities, and when I brought the idea before the faculty committee, they were happy to approve the idea and fund my travel to various black colleges for recruiting purposes.

What did you do during your summers in law school?

After my 1L year, which I did at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, I was a Research Assistant for a professor at UNC. I also took two classes, one with Steven Duke and one with Abraham Abramovsky from Fordham Law School. They both encouraged me to transfer, and I was accepted at Yale during the summer and began my second year there in the fall. Then, my 2L summer, I worked for Marian Wright Edelman, who has been a crusader for international children’s rights.


What do you do in your free time?

I am the chair (now beginning my second one-year term) of the board of directors of the Better Business Bureau of Metropolitan New York and represent Time Inc. on that board.  The BBB handles nearly 600,000 complaints from consumers each year and has budget of over $4 million dollars. In March 2010 my first book, The Little Black Book of Success: Laws of Leadership for Black Women, written with two of my best girlfriends, was published by Random House/One World Press. It is now in its sixth printing and we are writing a second book together.  I also do a great deal of volunteer and community work, and I still sing! I have been performing sacred choral music in the metropolitan New York area for more than twenty years. I also have a rich and full personal life. I’m engaged to a wonderful man who has two amazing children who have generously enfolded me into their lives. We now have a delightful grandson who is five years old.


Do you have any advice for current students as they think about their future careers?

The key things to know are that you will work hard and that you will always have choices, even when you don’t feel like you do. At Yale Law School, you often get the message that real lawyers go to firms, but this is not true. Real lawyers do what you do: you bring all of you to the practice of law—values, belief systems, concerns, compassions, and the skills you had when you came into Yale. You are good and you can always create opportunities for yourselves. There are never as many limits as you feel there are.