Dominique Lamb, CEO of the National Retail Association moved from Wollongong University law graduate to CEO in less than 10 years.
Here, she talks to us about what drives her career-wise, how she grew her career so quickly and what work-life balance means in her world. She also contemplates the biggest challenges ahead for lawyers and offers advice on how to prepare for those challenges.
Crowd & Co: Congratulations on your appointment to the role of CEO last year - less than 10 years after you graduated from Wollongong University with a LLB. Can you tell me what things were helpful in growing your career so quickly?
Dominique Lamb: The most important way that I grew my career was through networking and getting involved in a number of different industries. Early on in my career I joined a number of business networks and started to take an interest in various industry associations, writing material for them, attending events and taking any chance to speak with them.
For me, it was very much about building a profile and starting early. It doesn’t happen overnight but over time. I focused on LinkedIn, posting relevant articles about my practice area, growing my connections and just creating a buzz around industrial relations where ever I could. Profile building includes all forms of presentation, including how you physically present, maintaining a point of difference and learning to have opinions – even when not everyone agrees with you – and being brave enough to back yourself.
I have also found that mentors are incredibly important, because not every day is full of sunshine and it helped me to have someone more experienced to bounce ideas off, provide me with direction and just give me a little push when I needed it.
C&Co: Can you also tell me what motivated you to transition from a legal role to a business role?
DL: I am very lucky in my role as the CEO of the National Retail Association (NRA) that I am still very much involved in NRA Legal and our workplace relations team. The NRA provides advice and information to our members and also government, both State and Federal, in relation to policy and the experience of employers and Australia’s industrial relations system. My decision to transition was really about wanting to be able to agitate and drive change, and to do it in a well-informed, educated and strategic manner.
I am still a Legal Practice Director within our law practice and I am still exposed to day-to-day legal issues faced by retailers. The CEO role really is a unique opportunity to be part of both worlds.
C&Co: Your LinkedIn profile says you "bring a level passion and motivation to your role which is hard to find." Can you tell me about what drives your enthusiasm for work?
DL: I am passionate about making a difference for the better. I really love the retail industry. It’s energetic, creative and nimble, and our retailers as an industry, in my experience, genuinely care about their businesses, employees, supply chain and social corporate responsibility. I’m a reflection of their energy and they drive me to work harder every day to try and get them a better outcome. This outcome might be funding for training, recognition that they are the second largest employer in the country, simply having their voices heard, or it could be a win in the Fair Work Commission or the Federal Circuit Court.
C&Co: What has been the biggest challenge in your career?
DL: The biggest challenge for me is having a work–life balance, it’s easy to get swept away in the tsunami of work. I have however implemented a number of strategies to make this easier, including scheduling PT and fitness sessions and listening to audio books on the way to work to zone out from my phone that inevitably requires my attention. I have found it is about taking the little time I have and using it to ensure I can find some down time, to ensure I am at my best when I am working.
C&Co: What do you think will be the biggest challenge in the future for lawyers?
DL: The biggest challenge for future lawyers will be meaningful job opportunities. I believe that our expectations of jobs are changing and that there appears to be less legal jobs available.
Additionally, it all comes down to technology and how clients want to be communicated with. It is all about speed and convenience these days and this is a difficult proposition when providing complex legal advice. Lawyers will need to understand how technology can assist them while making sure they do not compromise their service, the quality of their advice or the security of this advice.
C&Co: What do you think will be the biggest opportunity in the future for those in the legal profession?
DL: I think the biggest opportunity for the legal profession is technology – embracing new ways of doing things, and new ways to communicate, keep records and advise our clients. I think there is a huge opportunity to focus on serving clients better by interpreting data, embracing law as a global profession and valuing emotional intelligence in a different way, to ensure technology is only employed with the right client in the right way – all while ensuring lawyers are still maintaining their relationships no matter how pervasive technology becomes.
C&Co: What are the key changes you see necessary to help improve the specific experience of female lawyers?
DL: I am a firm believer in Elizabeth Broderick’s “Gender Equality Blueprint” from 2010. In order to improve the specific experience of female lawyers, and to keep them in the profession and allow them to progress to senior roles, we need to see improvements and investments from their employers in relation to:
- providing a paid parental leave system
- making flexible working arrangements part of our DNA
- supporting parents to return to work
- increasing the number of women in leadership positions
- pushing for pay equity.
While the legal jobs market may be increasingly competitive, focusing on these key attributes will increase your chances of success, says Dominique:
- Emotional intelligence
- Ability to personalise your offering
- An understanding of technology and new technology
- A willingness to embrace technology and to be part of an ever-changing practice
- The ability to market and sell
- A willingness to collaborate
- Technical soundness
- An ability to foresee risk in an ever-changing digital environment and to adapt to that environment and minimise that risk for both the client and the lawyer.
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