Barbados, Brooklyn, and Boardrooms
We recently had a chat with attorney Dionne Kelly, senior counsel for Walmart Inc. Dionne is a trailblazer in her field who has a passion for helping others. We trust that you'll enjoy getting to know a little about this amazing woman as she shares personal and professional experiences. Lastly, be sure to share this with any student or young person who may be interested in pursuing a career in the legal field.
Who is Dionne Kelly? Tell our Kaizen Insiders a little bit about yourself. What excites you? What
do you do for fun?
This question is always hard for me to answer because it depends on the setting that I am in.
But overall, I am a pretty laid-back person that loves to laugh and not take herself too
seriously (only when it is necessary). I hail from the beautiful island of Barbados, grew up
and was raised in Brooklyn, and currently live in the South (Charlotte, NC). I love
everything sports, a little bit of shopping and would call myself a self-proclaimed “foodie”.
Additionally, I have a heart for community service and reaching society’s most vulnerable
You recently announced that you are Senior Counsel for Walmart Inc. WOW! Congratulations
on your accomplishment!!! What does it mean to be Senior Counsel for Walmart? What does
your role entail? Describe a typical workday.
Thank you for the congratulations-- it means a lot to me. Being Senior Counsel means that
I am an attorney for Walmart with Director-level status. Walmart is my client and I work
on behalf of the company. I am on the Legal Investigations Team, which means I lead
investigations while providing legal advice to leadership on the best way to move forward
in an effort to alleviate or mitigate risk. My team only handles the most serious and
complex investigations. We also work with many outside agencies- such as law
enforcement, state attorney general offices, and the Department of Justice. I honestly feel
that I have the most interesting job in the world and absolutely love what I do.
There is nothing typical about being an attorney for a global giant like Walmart. My days
shift depending on the pressing issues to be handled on that day. I will say that I always
start my days by checking my emails, reviewing my “to do” list, taking a deep breath, and
going for the gold. I review cases on a daily basis, with some days carrying a heavier review
load. There are some days, that I am in meetings all day back-to-back, and other days
when I am just doing office or administrative work. It varies greatly.
Indeed those who hired you provided feedback once the decision to hire was official. What
characteristics or experiences made you a standout candidate for this position?
Honestly, GOD!!! God had blessed me with the ability to be not only an attorney- but a
really good one. He equips me with the knowledge and has allowed me to flourish over the
course of my 12-year legal career. I am a former solo practitioner, a former Assistant
Public Defender, a former Prosecutor, and a former civil litigator when I was an In-house
Counsel in the healthcare space. I can talk all day about how God allowed me to navigate
through my legal career, but for brevity's sake- I will say that God placed me in each of my
roles. I was able to acquire a mountain of skills that made me sharp, marketable, and highly
desired on the job market. After joining Walmart, my leaders told me that during the
interview process they could tell that I was smart, highly-skilled, genuine, and knew how to
deal with all levels of people. Having professional skills is great, but people tend to forget
how important people skills are. Others can see and feel when you are authentic and
genuine and will resonate with you.
It is evident that you LOVE your career and see it as a calling. What is your favorite thing about
being a lawyer? Also, what is the most challenging aspect of your profession? Is there something you wish people understood about being an attorney?
My favorite thing about being an attorney is the ability to provide the best outcomes for my
clients- whether the client has been an individual or an organization/corporation. I get to
find creative solutions to people’s problems or avoid problems before they arise. Some days
I feel like an analytical superhero.
My favorite thing about being an attorney is also the most challenging thing about being an
attorney. When I was a criminal litigator, a person’s freedom or lack thereof hinged on my
ability to do my job. The pressure can be immense when your opinion or advice determines
good or bad outcomes for other people. It forces you to work harder and take the extra
steps to be proficient and knowledgeable. People’s lives, freedom, business successes and
future depend on you.
I always tell people this— being an attorney is not always glamorous. In actuality, it is
almost never that. This profession requires hard work, dedication, some sleepless nights, and some long hours. If being an attorney is not your passion, the profession will consume
you. Additionally, there will always be a cap to your success if this isn’t your call. Think
long and hard before venturing into the field. It is nothing like Matlock or Law and Order.
Significant responsibilities require serious time commitments. What do you do to maintain
balance, and how do you set boundaries?
I’m still developing strategies to maintain a good work/life balance. I make sure that I
make time for self-care. I don’t work 24/7! I do have some long days, but that’s not my
everyday norm. For the most part, when I am done with work for the day, I am done--
recognizing that because I handle very sensitive investigations, there are times when I can’t
do that. I go on vacations, get my hair done, nails done, and hang out with family and
friends. I recently started implementing periodic massages into my routine and it has been
a game-changer. You have to create your personal time and honor it.
My job is great because I have not received work calls after hours since being employed
here. I will get an email here or there, but the company honors a very healthy work/life
Though you haven’t been in the position for a long time, what impact do you hope to make in
My hope is that young Black men and women will look at me and tell themselves that they
can achieve it too. I know that I will work hard and do great things in my role, therefore
my goals are beyond basic work goals. I want people to see my brown face and locs in this
position and know that their dreams are attainable. I want people to know that they can
break every ceiling and barrier that society has constructed.
You are a woman working in a male-dominated space. Have you experienced any push-back? If
so, how do you navigate any tension that arises?
I have not received pushback YET. I say yet because I know that it is likely coming. I know
that I will likely be tried and tested professionally. I’m not concerned though because God
has shown me that He will fight every single battle I face. I will be victorious! I will
continue to pray and ask God to go before me and deal with the weapons that may be
formed. The weapons will form, but they won’t be prosperous.
What are you most proud of in your journey to being appointed senior counsel for one of the
largest and most recognizable businesses in the nation/world?
I’m honored that God chose me for this role. This role is HUGE! I’m proud that I stayed
the course throughout my career and listened to God’s voice. There were times when I felt
that I wasn’t seeing the fruits of my labor. I gave my all and became the best in my roles
but struggled with the idea that my impact and reach would be limited. As a result, there
were days when I wanted to give up! I remember being so frustrated a few years ago that I
started applying for jobs outside of the legal profession. God said NO. I did not receive a
call back from any of them. Little did I know that God was working, moving, and shifting
mountains on my behalf. His reward to me was this position. I am so humbled and grateful.
I wake up every day and ask if this is really my life.
Do you have mentors? If so, how did you choose these individuals? And what is the best advice
you’ve received from a mentor?
I have a few mentors that are near and dear to me. They have guided me through life
personally and professionally. Before choosing a mentor, I sit back and observe. I see what
they do, how they do it, and why they do it. The WHY is most important to me. I choose
people who are purpose-driven, intentional in their endeavors, and open to nurturing
those coming along behind them. I would advise younger people to take a similar approach
before choosing a mentor.
The best advice that I received from a mentor was to be true to myself and not to tone
down how dynamic I am to make others feel comfortable with themselves. I remember her
saying “command the respect that you deserve, don’t ask for it”. I don’t even have to add
on to those words- it’s self-explanatory.
Finally, what advice would you give to a parent who wants to best support their child’s academic
pursuits? Or, what advice would you give to your senior high school self?
Advice to parents:
1. Cultivate your child’s gifting and talents. Provide them with the tools necessary to
allow their true calling to blossom. If he/she wants to be an artist, purchase paint,
enroll them in art school, take them to see exhibits, etc…
2. Don’t push your children to pursue your unfulfilled dreams. That’s a recipe for
failure and disaster. Allow them to have the individuality of choice while guiding them
along their journey.
Advice to my high school self:
1. Don’t procrastinate! Get the work done. If you are like me, some of your best work
will be accomplished under pressure and tight deadlines. However, don’t create
unnecessary pressure by pushing off what can be accomplished today.
2. Always go the extra mile! If you hear about a cool summer internship-pursue it. If
you have a favorite teacher, make an effort to get to know him/her--that could be
your future mentor.
Is there anything I neglected to ask or anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
No. I think you covered it all beautifully. Thank you.
Thank you very much for carving some time out of your hectic schedule to share with our readers. Continue to do all things in humility and excellence, and we wish you added success.