To know Naomi Thompson, is to know what ambition and passion look like. From the minute you meet her in real-time, her energy is contagious and her vision for the future of law in Africa will blow your mind. She has been instrumental to both Tiyani and I’s higher education journeys so it goes without saying that she has been our WCW for quite a while.
Naomi holds an LLB from the University of KwaZulu Natal in South Africa as well as an MBA from Hult International Business School from the United States. She started her career as a corporate in-house legal counsel and worked for a Pan African investment company. After ten years as a corporate in-house lawyer, she was selected by the Chief Operating Officer (COO) to become his Chief of Staff. This position exposed her to the international business, with a focus on strategy implementation and business operations and provided her the opportunity to manage multiple large projects simultaneously.
Upon completing her MBA, Naomi joined Exigent, a global alternative services provider. In her current role, Vice President – Legal Solutions, she focuses on legal innovation; transforming the way legal services are offered by combining technology and data to deliver answers that impact every aspect of business performance.
1) The best part of her job:
The driving force behind my work is grounded in my determination to makes a difference and living a life of impact. I am driven by my purpose, a strong belief in leading by example and motivating others. Professionally, I am driven to be on the cutting edge of legal innovation. With Exigent’s mission to change the way legal services are provided with innovation and creativity as part of Exigent’s DNA, we translate this into finding solutions to challenges for our clients. Being part of such a dynamic global legal team always keeps me engaged. I am constantly driven to stay abreast of developments in the fourth industrial revolution and its impact on legal delivery. Legal technology is evolving, understanding the effect of artificial intelligence, data analytics, and automation to translate value to my clients and the legal profession is part of what motivates me.
My current role allows me to have a larger impact, not only in our organisation, but it also allows me to drive change in the legal industry. Combining both my legal and business experience as well as my master’s degree I can bring a fresh perspective to the challenges faced by the African legal industry. I am passionate about the digital transformation of the legal profession and I am a champion for innovation, process improvement, and technology.
2) Change she wants to see in the legal industry:
I want to change access to opportunities for women and in particular women of colour as this remains a barrier for women in South Africa. In so many ways the challenges faced by women in the legal industry are not very different from that of women in South Africa. There is a multitude of obstacles that their male counterparts probably don’t even consider. The lack of representation of women in top leadership positions is still one of the biggest challenges, with women of colour being even less represented. The slow pace of transformation and gender inequality with a lack of diversity is a tradition that persists and still thrives in the legal industry. The gender pay gap is also a huge challenge that females face. The profession is extremely rigid, with grueling working hours, women carry the additional role of family responsibility, perceived as career limiting. When a woman becomes a mother, in what is a very patriarchal system, promotion and remuneration are impacted as the women are away from practice due to having kids or tending to their children. The challenges facing women in the legal profession are not limited to lack of transformation and unequal pay but gender-biased in many of the industry bodies are male-dominated.
Women face unique challenges in accessing the law and by implication, justice which is often unattainable. Access to legal representation is not affordable due to several factors, including the high cost associated with legal services, lack of diversity in representation, the uneven geographical distribution of lawyers, little information about the availability of legal services, lawyers can be perceived as intimidating, and the legal profession traditionally being male-dominated.
3) The lawyer she admires (her Werk crush):
Justice Leona Theron a judge on the Constitutional Court of South Africa is a woman that I truly admire and look up to, not only because of her achievement but her humility and kindness struck me when I first met her. Leona was first appointed to the bench in 1999 at the age of 32, becoming the first black woman judge in Kwa Zulu Natal High Court the country’s youngest judge at the time. She was the first South African to receive the Commonwealth Foundation Fellowship award and won the Department of Justice’s Woman Achiever of the Year award in 2000.
Leona represents a woman who shattered all glass ceilings throughout her career – always leading the way for those who came after her, and once again her representation on the highest court of the land is changing some inherent bias that may exist in an all-male bench. Leona’s commitment to women’s rights and equality is demonstrated in her judgments. Her personal experience with inequality serves as the driving force that motivated her to fight for equal rights for all.
Much like my journey she was no stranger to adversity, growing up without financial opportunities she had three part-time jobs to finance her legal studies. Leona’s determination, drive and advocacy for women and being a true leader in our industry are only a handful of reasons I aspire to make a difference and live a life of impact like she does.
4) The role of mentorship in her career:
As a young lawyer and during my years as legal counsel I did not have a mentor, I did not have the benefit of someone guiding me and helping me navigate the challenges faced by young lawyers. Corporate was vastly different from the law firm environment and the adjustment was brutal. However, when I switched careers I was blessed to have leaders who made it their responsibility to mentor me. This was a privilege I do not take lightly, it resulted in my career taking off and finding the right fit for me. I now have a few mentors whose wisdom I treasure. Due to my lack of mentors earlier in my career, I make it my mission to mentor young women, not only in law but generally across the business. I use my story to motivate others to follow their dream, to fight for what they believe in to achieve their goals.
5) Describe your Werk style and do you have a “Go-To” beauty or grooming staple? (work fashion style)
My work style is classic – love a well-cut suit (when I can actually fit into all my suits) always paired with a beautiful heel, yes I love shoes – especially beautiful stilettos.
Grooming staple – Nails I have to have my bi-weekly nail appointment. I meet a lot of clients and speak with my hands, it’s important for me to be well-groomed and have pretty nails.
6) What she does for self care:
I meditate daily, this started during high-stress periods when I was unable to fall asleep, it has now become a way life. I do guided meditations and it varies daily, often it’s a gratitude meditation for the blessings I have in life.
Affirmations are also part of my daily routine, this is a great way to achieve all my goals and help me remain healthy.
7) The most worthwhile investment in the last 5 years:
The best investment was the investment I made in myself and my future when I chose to do an international MBA. I was determined to ensure I work toward that dream and make it a reality. I took the risk and gave up the Chief of Staff position at a prestigious investment company in pursuit of that dream. Like most candidates applying from the continent, unfavourable exchange rates, the cost of an international program and my personal circumstances were all challenges I had to overcome to turn that into a reality. I completed a Hult International Business School Global One-Year MBA, one of the most prestigious international business schools, allowed me to reach my dreams of studying with some of the world’s most inﬂuential thinkers and innovators. The wealth of diversity through cultural and practical experiences with experiential teaching techniques provided me the platform to expand my learning. I had the opportunity to build strong relationships and cultivate a global network with diverse class interactions and debates – challenging my perceptions and world views.
- The role of a lawyer is to make the law more accessible to ordinary people and serving as a trusted advisor.
- The reaction when people find out you are a lawyer It varies – men in a social setting are often intimidated, followed by the general jokes about lawyers. Others tend to box me as one dimensional and only focused on going to court or giving legal advice.
- In your quietest moments what are you most grateful for My parents and their health in general – my parents are in their 80’s and live with me – I am grateful to have beautiful memories I am creating with them
- Expectation V Reality of a career in law since you left law school? Law school can create the perception that there’s a direct career path. In reality, careers are like clay that you mold with experience. The important thing is to be open minded and flexible while driving ahead. I started as a litigator working on patent and technology contract cases. Now a lot of my work focuses on privacy.
- Where and how can people find you online or even offline? LinkedIn (Naomi Thompson) And/Or Instagram @thompson_n77