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Lubna Qassim left her private practice to take on the task of overseeing the legal passage of groundbreaking economic reforms in the United Arab Emirates. Now chief Group General Counsel and company Secretary of banking conglomerate Emirates NBD, she reflects on how solid training, a fearless approach and relentless ambition have driven her story of success.

A D V I C E   T O   M Y   Y O U N G E R   S E L F

photo of Lubna Qassim

You know how they say you have to be very careful what you wish for? My burning desire, upon (someday) retiring from private practice, was to shape the legal landscape of my home country. That wish was granted much earlier than expected when the Dubai government asked me to leave my firm while still a young lawyer and build a suite of economic legislations to attract foreign direct investment and strengthen the legal infrastructure of the UAE.

Suddenly, I was in the public sector, and my client was the government. It was not just about being a lawyer, but about diplomacy and navigating various languages in serving the government and public sector. This is not the sort of skillset that you learn from a manual or an academy. But having worked at a top international law firm, I had the ability to think creatively outside the box, on the spot and under pressure.

I found myself working with people who had served in the government for 30 or 40 years, who had never worked with a woman before, much less a young woman. I was the only female voice. I had to work extremely hard just to prove that my work was credible, but through consistent, quality, sound advice, they soon got the message.

As a young lawyer in private practice, I was extremely shy about expressing my point of view. I had answers and opinions but was intimidated by senior lawyers and worried that my ideas would be rejected. I remember the shiver in my voice the first time I spoke up – but then saw positive looks across the table, which encouraged me. In those moments, my career progressed.

Women care deeply about being judged and often imagine career-ending consequences in speaking their minds. I’ve taken some very big risks in my career and simply didn’t care about consequences like that, so long as I was confident in serving the best interests of my client.

When I was in the government, everything had to be delicately managed. I couldn’t lean on anyone, yet a single decision could affect the entire economy. From day one, I realized what was at stake and knew I had to step out of my comfort zone and confidently rely on my professional judgment and expertise. I can’t say that I was right every time, but I always slept soundly knowing that I had given my best advice – and that’s what mattered.

My advice to young lawyers, irrespective of gender, is to push through your obstacles. As my father said to me: no dream is too big. But do make sure it’s your personal dream – one you will stay committed to even when things get difficult. No doubt, there have been challenging times in my career, but because this is my dream, I continue to persevere no matter how hard the winds blow against me.