We speak to Dominique Hussey, of Bennett Jones, about how she cultivated her skills to become a leader
Dominique Hussey, Vice Chair and Managing Partner of the Toronto office at Bennett Jones, had career aspirations to make partner, but they never included firm leadership. However, fate appeared to have a different plan.
Hussey joined the firm as a senior intellectual property (IP) litigation associate in 2005 after working at a large U.S. law firm. Over her career there, Hussey became involved in various firm committees, starting with the student recruitment committee soon after joining the firm, and the associate review committee for the litigation practice group a few years later. In between, she was appointed the IP litigation practice group chair and then the co-chair of the Innovation Technology & Branding Group. In 2012, she was elected to — and later served as the lead director for — the firm’s board of directors. She still holds those chair positions today.
Those roles taught Hussey the inner workings of the firm at a national level in a variety of areas, such as recruitment, performance, and business; and they also played an integral role in her appointment to vice chair and as managing partner of the Toronto office.
As a student of servant leadership and a strong believer in holding herself to high standards, Hussey’s philosophy on leadership is to serve while developing a vision that is “personal to me and fits within the general strategy of the firm,” she said.
The path to leadership
Indeed, Hussey’s path to leadership is an excellent example to follow for women, especially women of color, who desire to reach executive levels of the legal industry. Some specific insight or skills that Hussey gained included:
- As a member of the student recruitment committee, she got to know each new hire, witnessed their progression during their tenure at the firm, and helped develop the recruitment systems of the firm. Many of the students she helped recruit have now made partner.
- As head of the associate review committee for litigation, Hussey gained valuable experience by participating in the performance reviews and practice development of associates. As a member of the board of directors, she has been involved in partner review and compensation decisions, too. As the co-head of her practice group, she has learned to optimize staffing, allowing her to develop her knack for talent management by learning the strengths and areas for development of a variety of firm members — students, associates, partners, and other professionals.
- Through her leadership roles, she gained exposure to many partners in different practice areas and influencers throughout the firm.
Hussey explained she is most appreciative of her role as lead director on the firm’s board of directors. “It gave me a level of responsibility and visibility that I had not previously had and gave me the opportunity to address the entire Bennett Jones partnership at our annual general meetings and various other partner meetings,” she said.
In addition, she added, this role presented her the opportunity to develop public speaking skills outside of the context of litigation. “I was the student who never wanted to put her hand up in a law school class for fear of saying the wrong thing — and by the time I was ready to say something, the question was over, and the moment had passed,” she recalls.
The journey to overcoming this fear of public speaking and developing confidence was a challenge, Hussey said, adding she remembers the exact moment she figured out how to overcome this anxiety. “At my New York law firm, I was in the patent litigation group, which was mostly filled with very intelligent men who spoke with great confidence,” she explained, recalling that they interrupted or spoke over her routinely. However, as she started listening to what they said, Hussey said she realized that the thoughts they were expressing “were no more valid than the thoughts that I had.”
So, Hussey began copying how one female partner in the group handled these interruptions. “She just kept talking when she was interrupted,” Hussey said. “She never raised her voice or stated, ‘Don’t interrupt me.’”
Cultivating her leadership impact
As a Black woman, Hussey sees herself as an extension of the firm’s commitment to the value of diversity. In addition to Hussey, two other women — Radha Curpen in Vancouver, and Melanie Aitken in New York — hold managing partner titles among the firm’s eight offices.
Hussey outlined her strategic priorities as Managing Partner of the firm’s Toronto office, and stated that her main desire is to be a steward of the firm’s overall national strategy, which is to be a law firm “that businesses trust with their most complex matters” with a firm culture that is “one of real collegiality and respect.”
Indeed, the challenge of assuming this leadership role during a tumultuous time does not bother her; instead, she frames it as though the world is in crisis — but the firm is not. “It’s just a question of the firm having to adapt to the changing environment, sometimes at an accelerated pace,” she said, noting that among her priorities are business development and mentorship in the post-COVID world, and seeing these as critical tools for inclusion.
Hussey’s focus will be to execute on her leadership strengths — her approachability and keen eye for talent management — like she has always done, just on a greater scale. And her three-pronged secret weapon? Combining the use of technology to improve efficiency wherever possible, harnessing people’s differences and talents so people can work where their talent lies, and soliciting ideas to demonstrate that people will be heard.