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The Business Side Of Law: Deborah Dixon Of The Dixon Firm On 5 Things You Need To Create Or Lead A Successful Law Firm

An Interview With Eric Pine| Published in Authority Magazine

Be patient, be diligent, maintain the highest of standards for the type of law you want to practice and your internal practices, find a good bookkeeper and rely on your network.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. I’m a huge fan of mentorship throughout one’s career. None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Who has been your biggest mentor? What was the most valuable lesson you learned from them?

I am a big proponent of mentors and believe mentors come in varying degrees. I have had mentors for a certain period of time and ones that I can still go to for advice, years later. In law school, one of my biggest mentors who remains important in my life today, was my mock trial director, Mario Conte. He had a very different practice than mine, but he formed the foundation for teaching me how I try cases and the importance of evidence. He would always say to be the most prepared and professional attorney in the room. That remains a tenant for my practice today. Others have been mentors in life on practicing law and maintaining a semblance of a personal life, if possible.

From completing your degree to opening a practice and becoming a business owner, your path was most likely challenging. Can you share a story about one of your greatest struggles? Can you share what you did to overcome it?

A constant struggle is the “imposter syndrome” and fear of forgetting that I am on this path of managing my own law firm because I have worked hard, I value independence and have earned the ability to work on big cases because of the years of hard work and training. It is something I continue to work to overcome and in part, by recognizing that it exists, and by surrounding myself with supportive and encouraging colleagues and everyone I work with in my office. Part of “competing” for cases is showing your experience, and another part is remembering you belong in the room.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share a story about how that was relevant in your own life?

“Fight for the things that you care about but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

I take cases that I believe in. In my personal life, I fight for causes I believe in and things and people that are important to me. I have learned that being professionally courteous to everyone is essential to being a good human and building cohesive teams. I frequently work in cases with a lot of lawyers and creating bridges and showing the importance of the work always outweighs being on an island.

This is not easy work. What is your primary motivation and drive behind the work that you do?

My sense of justice pushes me, and I believe people should be treated fairly, and with dignity. This motivation is the same whether I am handling discrimination cases or defective product cases. I am an advocate for equality of opportunity and access and parity in how everyone is treated, it becomes a strong motivator to use my knowledge and training to represent those who do not feel they were treated in that manner.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

We have been suing manufacturers of premature baby formula alleging the formula significantly increases the risk of babies developing a potentially deadly disease that causes significant harm to these babies. We were appointed in leadership in this multidistrict litigation. We also represent nearly 100 employees who are suing Twitter for failing to honor Twitter’s written policy in providing severance to the thousands of employees who were laid off when Elon Musk purchased Twitter.

Fantastic. Let’s now shift to discussing the business of law. Can you tell us a bit about the nature of your practice and what you focus on?

We focus on employment gender discrimination cases, harassment and assault cases, and unfair treatment, as well as defective products in class or mass actions, when a lot of people are injured by a specific product or event.

You are a successful attorney. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? What unique qualities do you have that others may not? Can you please share a story or example for each?

Passion, hard work, strong ethics and a sense of purpose. This also requires multi-tasking skills and caring deeply that the work product is reflective of the firm’s name and reputation. I also strongly believe in inclusivity in the law, which means diversity of people and thoughts, but also including everyone in big decisions and ensuring the entire firm supports the mission of the firm, the cases, and the direction.

Do you think where you went to school has any bearing on your success? How important is it for a lawyer to go to a top-tier school?

I personally do not believe it has any bearing on one’s potential for success. It certainly will matter the types of opportunities you will have at certain law firms immediately after passing the bar, but it does not matter for the span of one’s career. Certain law firms will not accept applications from below certain tiered schools, but that does not mean those law firms will not hire you once you demonstrate your abilities as a lawyer.

Managing being a law practitioner and a business owner is a constant balancing act. How do you manage both roles?

I perhaps get less sleep than recommended! Being a business owner is a lot of work, as is being a litigator, but both have become passions of mine and when you are passionate about what you do, you pay less attention to the number of hours it requires. I surround myself with amazing people in my office who I know have my back on any case we are working on, and I have amazing professionals that handle some administrative aspects of the firm.

Can you help articulate the entrepreneurial skills a lawyer needs to run and lead a successful law firm?

Being afraid of failure, but not too afraid that it prevents you from trying. It is critical to find the best people to be part of your firm, to treat them more than fairly and build together. I also believe that being an eternal optimist is quite helpful!

As a business owner you spend most of your time working IN your practice, seeing clients. When and how do you shift to working ON your practice? (Marketing, upgrading systems, growing your practice, etc.) How much time do you spend on the business elements?

I spend most of my time managing the litigation of the cases now. It is important to set up the systems because the infrastructure is important — having a document management system, having updated technology, etc. I have a great team that works on all the cases, and we work together on strategy. We have weekly meetings to review cases and issues and set internal deadlines for pushing the cases forward. I am primarily responsible for marketing and bringing in cases, so I do spend a fair amount of time speaking at events, attending and speaking at conferences, and being part of the legal community. All the lawyers that work with me are very involved, but we do not necessarily overlap. They have passions and organizations that are important to them and while we enjoy attending some events together because we all believe in the mission, they also attend events on their own and have created their own networks.

Can you share some specific, non intuitive insights from our personal experience about how a leader of a law firm should:

  1. Manage personnel: Find the best people to work with you and share your goal/vision, treat them better than fair, and develop reciprocal loyalty and interpersonal skills. It reduces turnover.
  2. Hire and fire: Slow to hire and quick to fire. Finding the best people that fit within your own firm takes time. Setting expectations upfront and being very clear is difficult but essential.
  3. Generate leads:
  4. Advertise: You may not know all the ways to advertise or market yourself, but take steps to learn to do so actively instead of passively. I get a lot of cases from other lawyers, and I feel honored that lawyers trust me with their referrals.
  5. Manage finances: Hire someone who can help if it is not your strength; it is not mine but having an incredible bookkeeper and tax preparers and financial advisors has been critically important. Budget, budget, budget! A line of credit is helpful, but you cannot run your firm on credit.
Lawyer Deborah Dixon

Ok, thank you. Here is the main question of our interview about the business side of law. What are your “5 Things An Attorney Needs To Know In Order To Create A Successful And Thriving Law Practice”?

Be patient, be diligent, maintain the highest of standards for the type of law you want to practice and your internal practices, find a good bookkeeper and rely on your network. When I started my firm, my friends and network went out of their way to give me their tips on vendors and people to speak with, including banks that did IOLTA accounts required the by state bar, accountants/bookkeepers, business coaches etc. I have paid it forward and every time someone tells me they are starting their own practice, I share the resources I was given and add my own. I planned ahead on finances knowing exactly how much it would cost me to run the entire firm for a year, which allowed me the freedom to be patient for the types of cases I wanted to work on that were rewarding and impactful. Sometimes we take cases we need, and that is perfectly fine, but it should be the exception and not the majority of your cases if you are trying to build a practice of cases that are meaningful to you.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Inclusivity and parity of opportunity. I truly believe that if we had the same opportunities despite our demographics of socio-economic, gender, race, heritage religion, etc., we would see more people thrive and be included in decisions. We would have fuller perspectives and a better appreciation for each other, which I believe would result in more kindness!

How can our readers further follow your work online?

You can visit our website

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!

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