Bloomberg Law
Jan. 27, 2023, 7:36 PM

Buzzfeed, Banana Republic Legal Chiefs Switch to Education Arena

Brian Baxter
Brian Baxter

Buzzfeed Inc. and Gap Inc. lawyers left their posts to join education platforms after the pandemic demonstrated the importance of technology as a learning tool.

Rhonda Powell, who recently stepped down as Buzzfeed Inc.'s chief legal officer, has become general counsel for the nonprofit Strada Education Network Inc. The group works to strengthen connections between education and employment through advocacy, data, and training, among other things.

Marie Ma has become the top lawyer for Articulate Global Inc., a corporate learning and training platform. She started Jan. 23 after 19 years at the Gap Inc., where Ma was a divisional general counsel for the retailer’s Banana Republic brand and a deputy general counsel for its San Francisco-based parent company.

Their moves come as a growing number of women leave private practice for in-house jobs in part because many believe it’s easier to advance their legal careers outside of law firms and that the work-life balance is better.

Powell said her role at Strada, an Indianapolis-based organization formerly known as USA Funds, is a “unique and rewarding opportunity” that aligns her professional pursuits with her passion and commitment to education access.

She also serves on the boards of PowerMyLearning and the Food Education Fund, two other nonprofits focused on educational equity.

Diversity Lacking

Powell had joined Buzzfeed in 2018 to replace the media company’s former general counsel, Allison Lucas, who is now a deputy general counsel at the Gap.

Rhonda Powell

While women law department leaders now make up nearly half of the Fortune 500, the number of individuals from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds in those positions is lacking, she said.

“I will continue to educate on the particular challenges and roadblocks women of color are facing within the profession—in almost all settings—and use my skills and resources to combat them,” Powell said.

Legal recruitment firm Major, Lindsey & Africa brokered Powell’s move to Strada.

The nonprofit has had two acting legal chiefs—Christina Clark and Julie Ragsdale—since its former general counsel Erin Roth left in 2021 to become the top lawyer for an infrastructure company.

Strada’s most recent tax filing shows that Roth was paid roughly $607,500 in 2019 with New York’s Anderson Kill receiving $466,600 for legal services.

Ma’s Journey

Ma, who has spoken about the importance of diversity and inclusion in the legal industry, as well as the big workloads and blurred boundaries that came with being an in-house lawyer during the pandemic, confirmed via email that she’s the first-ever legal chief at Articulate.

She had a nontraditional path to the C-suite, starting her career as a paralegal at Fenwick & West and the Gap, where she worked while going to law school at night.

Marie Ma

In a 2019 interview with Corporate Counsel, Ma said she was told by Gap’s former general counsel Michelle Banks that the company couldn’t guarantee her a job after graduation.

Ma persevered, learning the intricacies of Gap’s business and building relationships with key decision-makers. She was named an associate corporate counsel in 2009 before going on to several other jobs at the company, including director of global equity administration.

Despite never working as a lawyer in Big Law, Ma has spoken about the importance of ensuring that diverse lawyers are awarded origination credits.

Given that she’s only been in her new job for a few days, Ma declined to discuss how she might deal with such issues at Articulate, which was valued at nearly $4 billion after a $1.5 billion funding round in 2021.

A spokeswoman for the startup said the New York-based company isn’t currently engaged in fundraising efforts.

To contact the reporter on this story: Brian Baxter in New York at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Chris Opfer at; John Hughes at