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Rhonda Joy McLean Uses Diverse Talents and Experiences in Law Practice and Life

Ask Rhonda Joy McLean, Associate General Counsel at Time Inc., how her personal and professional backgrounds have prepared her for her in-house position at Time Inc., and she's likely to say, "I feel like everything I’ve ever done in my life has prepared me for this job, including the music."  She also credits her family's support and nurturing for her ability to succeed in her career.

Growing up in the small town of Smithfield, North Carolina, McLean took a somewhat circuitous route to reach her legal career.  Since the time she was a child, the daughter of two public music school teachers had considered becoming a music therapist, having performed in her church, school, and community.

With the support of her family and moved by the litigation resulting locally from the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark school-desegregation decision of Brown v. Board of Education, McLean and two of her friends became the first African-American students to integrate the high school in her town.  McLean calls her high school experience "amazing" and notes that the great challenges and the rewards of those years helped to shape the person she is today.

The recipient of a National Merit scholarship, after high school, McLean attended Aurora College in Aurora, Illinois and began her studies majoring in piano.  During her first two years at Aurora, she was very involved at her school, having run the women's dorm and being a political activist who lost some of her scholarship money because she took some positions that were politically unpopular at the time.

During her junior year, studying with a visiting professor of criminology inspired her to change majors and pursue a degree in criminology.  Learning about boys in reform schools and people in prisons, McLean felt a degree in criminology would be much more useful and allow her to be more productive in the community, despite her love of the performing arts.

After graduating from Aurora, McLean returned to North Carolina.  Before she eventually attended law school, she worked in the local Head Start program and earned a Master's Degree in Adult Education and Leadership Development while working full time.  During those days, her clients and mentors encouraged her to attend law school, and she eventually did that, starting at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and later transferring to Yale, where she obtained her Juris Doctor.

After graduating from law school, McLean clerked for U.S. District Court Judge Anna Diggs Taylor for two years, and then moved to New York in 1985 to become a corporate litigator at a small law firm.  After deciding that litigation was not for her, she worked with Celia Paul Associates to explore other career options in the law.  McLean describes her experience with Celia Paul as immensely helpful and remarks, "What Celia did and continues to do is to help you think more creatively about the value of your work and life experiences and how you can transpose them into new and fulfilling careers. I worked with Celia and her team for several months and found all of their services to be quite helpful."

The guidance she received from Celia Paul Associates led her to a job with the Federal Trade Commission, where she advanced quickly and worked for nine years.  From that position, she was recruited to her current job at Time Inc.

At Time Inc., McLean and two other attorneys serve as legal compliance officers: they are responsible for reviewing and approving nearly 8,000 marketing materials and proposals annually from over 300 internal clients--the consumer marketing professionals at Time.  After approval, the marketing materials appear in more than 50 magazines, 90 Web sites, and various books that Time Inc. publishes through its two publishing houses.  McLean and the rest of the compliance team work hard to make sure that their clients' materials satisfy all of the federal, state, and local requirements.

In her job, McLean describes herself as a business partner with her clients--a drafter, negotiator, advocate, and diplomat.  She also supervises outside counsel, using outside law firms and legislative counsel to stay abreast of developments in the state legislatures and in the legislatures of Canada's provinces.  Additionally, McLean works with lawyers from other companies because Time Inc. is negotiating various partnerships and the publishing industry is reinventing itself in this era of emphasis on multimedia and the Internet.

When she's not working at Time, McLean stays busy pursuing her diverse interests and service activities.  She is a performing mezzo-soprano and pianist, serves on several non-profit boards, is the Chair of the Yale Law School Alumni Association, and mentors "quite a few students."

No stranger to career transitions, Rhonda Joy McLean offers these words of encouragement to attorneys who are currently going through such changes:

"There’s no one way to become successful. You shouldn’t chastise yourself for whatever struggles you undergo while you are figuring it out. Also, I think time is no longer our enemy. Lawyers used to feel that we either need to stay two years at a firm before you go or you’re going to be seen as a rolling stone. I think a lot of that thinking is gone. One of the bad things about that is that it’s gone because there’s a lot less loyalty on both sides (the employer and the employee). But what’s good about it is that you have more options. Now it means you have to know yourself really, really well which is why a service like Celia [Paul]’s is so important."

By Steve Imparl, guest blogger

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