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Litigators Know How to Multitask: How the GC of the NFL’s Chargers Also Runs Her Own Law Firm

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Trudy Knockless 

Deborah Dixon, who simultaneously serves as a litigator at her own law firm and as general counsel of the NFL’s Los Angeles Chargers, prides herself on caring about inclusivity and advancement for women in law and society.

That was one of the reasons she started The Dixon Firm in 2018. The independence would allow her to choose what cases to pursue, manage them the way she believed was best for clients and “run my firm differently than other firms.”

“I believe it is important to be more inclusive in all aspects of the firm, and I don’t use the traditional metrics like expecting my attorneys to come into the office every single day or to work certain hours—it is results-based not hours-based.”

Dixon, who became the Chargers’ top lawyer in April 2022, said she seized the opportunity because she realized it would not come again.

“I think the Chargers were thinking a little bit outside the box in saying litigators know how to multitask. Litigators know how to do things on short deadlines. Litigators know how to oversee a lot of the aspects. So, a lot of my role is being the liaison to the NFL, monitoring different things at the same time,” she said.

“In litigation,” she added, “we have to multitask and manage different deadlines and different aspects. We’re used to getting things off our plate. We’re used to reviewing things in quick deadlines and interacting with a lot of different people.”

Before the Chargers, Dixon spent almost seven years with Gomez Trial Attorneys, serving as senior trial attorney before becoming managing partner of its Complex Litigation Department. She was also an attorney at Wingert Grebing Brubaker & Juskie for eight years.

Corporate Counsel talked with Dixon about how she balances being a litigator with being general counsel of a professional football team.

Corporate Counsel: What drew you to the legal profession?

Deborah Dixon: When I was in college, I volunteered with a domestic violence restraining order clinic, Legal Aid in Santa Barbara. We would help prepare the domestic violence restraining order applications for the judge. There was a case that went to court. It was the first time that I realized that there was a literal bar that separated the people that could cross the bar and represent clients and people who had to stay back and could not speak on behalf of their clients.

I remember thinking, I want to pass that bar. I want to get to the other side, where I can advocate for my clients and be the one that speaks on their behalf when they can’t do it themselves. So that was a figurative and literal change in my course to go to law school.

CC: How did your legal career go in two directions simultaneously—plaintiffs attorney and corporate attorney for a sports team?

DD:  I truly think that anyone who’s looking to get into general counsel work or corporate counsel work, outside or in-house, has to want to deal with people. You have to be able to interact with people.

That’s a skill that litigators have had to refine—talking to jurors, talking to people in depositions and hearings, to judges, clients, jurors. And I think that translates over to corporate counsel and GC work, for sure.

CC: Is it a case where you love both sides that it’s hard to let go of either one?

DD: It’s so different. I love being a litigator. At the same time, [I also enjoy] this new experience of seeing … the whole world of the NFL and the football team and what goes into the production of a game.

I look at the games and I think, “That performer is out there because there was a contract that we did.” You look at games differently. I love being part of it. It’s exciting.

CC: What are some of the commonalities and differences between your dual roles?

DD: I would say that there are some policy commonalities in wanting to make sure that employees are paid fairly and equitably. That there’s transparency with how people are being hired—job descriptions, pay scales. That aligns directly with the Chargers being on the forefront of making sure they’re following all of those new [pay equity] guidelines and are looking at it even if it hasn’t yet become law.

I love that aspect of it. Getting to manage some of the outside counsel on different issues. They’re the specialists in the subject matter but [I’m] getting to learn about it. That overlaps with my work as a litigator.

It’s hard for me not to have both hats on at the same time. I actually was able to do one of the trials for the Chargers and have a successful outcome, which normally general counsel wouldn’t do. But my skills allowed me to say, “I can do that. I can come in, take that case over and do it myself,” which was fun.

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