Like many high achievers, Emily Wessels embraces challenges and doesn’t shy away from putting herself in new situations. It was a contributing factor in her decision to leave her associate position in the Minneapolis office of Merchant & Gould in March 2019 for an in-house counsel role at General Mills.
The move came with a change in focus from intellectual property litigation to a cornucopia of new legal responsibilities at Golden Valley-based General Mills. “I feel like it’s surprises every day, just because you don’t know what’s going to come at you,” she says.
Wessels has been asked to become a generalist, working on legal issues as diverse as advertising and marketing claims, to supporting G-Works, the company’s recently launched corporate venture studio.
She was offered the job at General Mills after handling some IP matters for the company while at Merchant & Gould. Wessels, who earned her J.D. at the University of Minnesota Law School, said one attraction of the in-house position was the opportunity to “fill in some skill and knowledge gaps” that she had noticed while working almost entirely on IP matters at the firm.
“I felt pretty well settled with the parameters in which I was working” at Merchant & Gould, she says. “I haven’t achieved that level of comfort in my in-house practice, and I’m starting to think maybe I never will. Maybe I never want to, because once you’re there, you stop growing and stop taking on new challenges.”
One thing that hasn’t changed is her commitment to pro bono work. Since starting her legal career, Wessels has been an advocate for individuals who need immigration and asylum representation. It’s not uncommon for lawyers to face new challenges by doing pro bono work when they transition to corporate law, but Wessels says the cases are too rewarding not to stick with it. She serves on the board of the Advocates for Human Rights, where she gets her clients. She also is an adjunct professor in the University of Minnesota Law School Moot Court program, where she teaches IP Moot Court and has coached the IP Moot Court competition team.
“Sometimes, I feel out over my tips,” she admits, “but that’s when I take the time to remind myself it’s why I took this job. I like getting challenged. And I like that no day is the same.”
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