Sonya: Have you had mentors/sponsors? Have you acted as a mentor/sponsor to others? Is mentorship/sponsorship important? How? Why?
Rhonda: I’ve had wonderful mentors and sponsors along the way, starting with my sixth grade teacher – Mrs. Blackman. There are so many – I can say I am truly a blessed person. Mrs. Blackman was followed by Mrs. Wieland (my middle school Spanish teacher, high school counselor and first sponsor), Ms. Martino, Mr. Grimes, Mrs. Buckley, Mr. Meltzer – this was just high school! Each of them added a piece to the puzzle. The most important thing that they did was put me in a position to hit the ground running as a freshman at Harvard University, fully confident and secure that coming from a high school that was classified as being “inner city”, I was prepared to compete with students from the most elite high schools in the country.
As a lawyer, I’ve had many fellow lawyers who helped me start, grow and shape my career. There are too many to list, and I’m so scared of leaving someone out that I’m reluctant to name names, but I have to mention Arnie Jacobs and Jack Jackson from Proskauer Rose (now Proskauer LLP), Carolyn Blankenship from Reuters and Pat Guy from Scripps Networks. All of them were both mentors and sponsors. There are many non-lawyers who’ve played a pivotal role in my career and its trajectory as well, including several of my clients, particularly when I moved in-house. Among that group, I have to acknowledge Michael Smith and Brooke Johnson, both of whom were integral to my success at Scripps Networks and beyond.
Sonya: Think about the legal profession over the course of the next ten years. What do you see as the big changes that are coming which you believe will most significantly impact the profession and the role of the GC/in-house legal department?
Rhonda: Technology has changed the practice of law and will continue to do so. The truth is that even though computer processing speed will continue to increase, human processing speed – the time that it takes to consider a problem or issue and work one’s way through it – is not going to change much. This creates real stressors for lawyers; clients don’t understand that just because they can send a document quickly it doesn’t mean that your attorney can review it and turn around comments in an hour. The use of AI in contract development and/or review is also raising both ethical and legal questions that will need to get worked through.
Sonya: Describe a significant challenge you have faced in your life or career. How did you overcome it? What did you learn from it?
Rhonda: I had serious complications during pregnancy and nearly died at 36. It took me a year to fully recover, while trying to manage three children under the age of 4. What I learned from it was, each day, to point yourself in the direction you want to go and take a step. It may seem like you are making little or no progress on a day to day basis, but when you look back over the weeks and months, you’ll see how far you’ve come. That lesson applied to my recovery, but it also applies to my career and the way that I shaped it.
The other lesson I learned, which stems from the same experience, is to be willing to take a risk. It was a long way back for me and sometimes I pushed against the constraints that were being placed on me, both personally and professionally. Some people will gamble, play the lottery, etc. which involves to some extent putting your money in someone else’s hands. Any day of the week, I will bet on myself before betting on someone else. It’s the confidence to take the job that you only fulfill half of the skills requirements for, to turn down the job that’s just a repeat of something you’ve already done. It’s the ability to make decisions firm in the knowledge that you will survive and thrive no matter what the eventual outcome.
Sonya: What does Diversity & Inclusion mean to you? How important is D&I to you personally? As a GC? To your company/legal department? What advice do you have for GCs and others seeking to make a positive impact on the progress of D&I in their organizations and in the legal profession?
Rhonda: I’m referring you back to my earlier comments about how and why diversity and inclusion are both critical to business success, and a tentpole of my professional mission.
Sonya: If you were not General Counsel of your company (or of any company or even a lawyer at all), what career do you think you would most like to pursue?
Rhonda: This is easy. Actress – I have a background in musical theater. I also have a tiny cookie company that I’ll give some TLC one day.
Sonya: Knowing what you know now about being a lawyer and a GC, if you could give one piece of advice to your younger self, what would it be? At what point in your past would you give yourself that advice?
Rhonda: I would tell my younger self to trust her instincts and to feel comfortable going her own way in her own way.
Sonya: Tell me something fun about yourself. A personal skill or hobby that, while not directly related to your day job, you feel makes you more well-rounded, helps you be better at your day job and/or helps relax and focus you to do your job as a GC better.
Rhonda: I won a tiny cookie company. I love to bake. I enjoy the precision and constancy of baking and the silence of the process; it creates balance for me against the ever changing, highly interactive nature of my job.
Sonya: Hashtag/Brand yourself in 5 words or less (For example, mine is #SelfiesWithSonya )