How Dominique Hussey rose to the top at Bennett Jones // Best Practices
On Tuesday December 1st, 2020Print
On Tuesday December 1st, 2020Print
On March 31, Dominique Hussey became the vice chair and Toronto managing partner at Bennett Jones LLP and, in the same moment, the first Black woman to head up a major Bay Street law firm. She received congratulatory calls from hundreds of people. “I felt like I heard from every Black female lawyer in Toronto,” she recalls. But she also heard from Black executives, scientists and business owners who found inspiration in her achievement. It was a powerful moment. Hussey started to feel connected to a broader cross-section of society, no longer limited to the legal profession. “My recent experiences,” she says, “have expanded the group of people I consider my community.”
Hussey grew up in Stratford, in a brainy, creative household. Her mother, a tribunal adjudicator, passed on a love of music, books and theatre, while her father, a surgeon and jazz guitarist, encouraged her in piano and vocal performance. Hussey’s favourite musician has always been Stevie Wonder, the singer, composer and multi-instrumentalist who works in numerous genres and is a mentor to many. You might sum up Wonder’s work ethic this way: Do lots of things. Do them well. And be generous to everyone you meet.
Hussey lives by these maxims, too. She joined Bennett Jones, back in 2005, as an accomplished intellectual-property litigator, already six years into her career. Her most recent position had been at Goodwin Procter LLP in New York, where she worked as an associate in the firm’s world-class IP group. In that role, she had represented several major pharmaceutical and consumer-brand companies, including Teva Pharmaceuticals, one of the world’s largest drug manufacturers. “I loved meeting researchers and learning about their thought processes,” she says. “There’s an art to inventing new things that advance society.”
Once at Bennett Jones, Hussey began her rise to the top. Over the next 15 years, she made partner, took charge of the IP litigation department and, of course, became the managing partner in Toronto. That ascent is easy to understand. Hussey is both an excellent lawyer and — because she is effusive, compassionate and precise — a natural team leader. She is the person colleagues trust with their most complex problems, both legal and personal. “I have spent countless hours working opposite Dominque’s desk,” says Shelby Morrison, an associate on the Bennett Jones intellectual-property team. Hussey and Morrison often get into debates about cannabis regulation, an area for which there is little caselaw. But Hussey seems to know every related area of the law and can find the relevant precedents. “She’s the exception to the phrase ‘jack of all trades, master of none,’” says Morrison. “It seems that she’s the master of everything.”
When Preet Bell, a Bennett Jones associate (now a partner), was pregnant with her first son, she, too, sought Hussey’s counsel. “Her words completely changed my perspective,” says Bell. Hussey told her to let the busy days be busy and to find balance in the aggregate, over a period of months.
At times, Hussey has had to remember her own advice. In early 2020, she went to trial on a patent-litigation case and, for six weeks, was barely home. Right afterward, she and her husband — Alan Gardner, also a partner at Bennett Jones — booked a family staycation in a suite at the Hotel Le Germain. In the evening, their two children, Josie and Henry, ordered room service and vegged out on movies. The next morning, they all had a day off, with brunch at a nearby tapas joint and later board games in the suite.
Such survival strategies are now even more necessary. Hussey’s busyness has hardly abated. Since COVID-19 hit, she has championed the mentorship program at Bennett Jones to ensure that junior lawyers get full attention, despite the remote-work environment. She also helped Bennett Jones build an expanded diversity and inclusion committee. And after the George Floyd protests broke out in the United States, the firm, with Hussey’s input, signed on to the BlackNorth Initiative, which commits it to having a workforce that reflects the country’s racial diversity. For Hussey, such initiatives aren’t just good policy; they’re good business. “Excellence is not concentrated in one particular group,” she says. So businesses have to hire widely.
Hussey has also made herself available to Black colleagues who are feeling burned out, having been called upon, repeatedly, to explain systemic racism to white peers. “It takes a lot of time to be Black,” Hussey often says on these calls. “These conversations are exhausting, but they’re also necessary. We can’t shy away from this opportunity.”
1993: As a third-year undergraduate student, working toward a bachelor of science at McGill University, Dominique Hussey applies to law school. She is accepted and decides to attend, leaving her science degree behind.
1995: As a 2L at McGill, Hussey worries that, by abandoning her undergrad, she has closed the door on a potential career in science. So she makes a highly unusual decision: she re-enrolls in her science program and completes the necessary courses that summer.
1997: Hussey receives a bachelor of science (in biology) and a law degree. Later that year, she articles at Gowlings in Ottawa, before joining the firm as an associate. At the firm, she meets Alan Gardner, an associate and her future husband.
2001: Hussey moves to New York to commence a master of laws at Columbia Law School. Her thesis compares how Canada and the United States approve drugs and litigate drug patents.
2002: As an associate at Goodwin Procter LLP in New York, Hussey builds on her expertise in patent and intellectual-property litigation.
2005: Hussey joins Bennett Jones LPP in Toronto as an associate.
2007: Eighteen months later, she makes partner.
2008: Hussey becomes the head of the firm’s IP litigation group.
2020: She is appointed the vice chair and Toronto managing partner at Bennett Jones. Hussey helps steer the firm through the unprecedented challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.
This is a story from our Winter 2020 Issue.
Illustration by Sarah Gonzales. Photo courtesy of Bennett Jones LLP.