Women Worth Watching 2015
Alston & Bird’s Class Action Practice Chair Wins Cases and Honors across the US
A creative problem solver, legal strategist, and committed advocate, Cari Dawson serves as chair of Alston & Bird’s Class Action practice, where she has successfully defended Fortune 500 companies as lead counsel in high-profile enterprise litigation throughout the United States. She has defended hundreds of class actions across an array of industries and regularly assists clients in the areas of commercial litigation, strategic counseling, and crisis management.
As co-chair of Alston & Bird’s Diversity Committee, Cari has played a leading role in championing diversity and inclusion within the firm and its communities. Her efforts, which include mentoring, advocating for, and sponsoring associates, have helped enhance the firm’s workplace diversity and resulted in significant marketplace recognition, such as its recent inclusion on FORTUNE’s “100 Best Companies to Work For™” list for 2015 (making Alston & Bird the first and only law firm to earn this distinction for 16 consecutive years). She also serves on the Executive Committee of the Commercial Law Section of the National Bar Association, is active in Corporate Counsel Women of Color, and participates in a variety of diverse bar organizations nationwide.
“Being a woman in my profession has been both a challenge and a benefit.” Cari said. “The number of black women partners at Am Law 100 law firms remains less than 2 percent, and unconscious bias impacts adversely the advancement of women of color in the legal profession. But I strongly believe many attributes I have, often characterized as “female” attributes, make me a more effective attorney.”
Cari was selected as one of the country’s “Most Influential Black Lawyers” by Savoy Magazine in 2015, and recognized as one of the “100 Most Influential Lawyers in America” by The National Law Journal in 2013. She was also recognized as one of the country’s “Most Powerful & Influential Women” by the National Diversity Council in 2014, honored as 2012 “Corporate Counsel of the Year” by the John M. Langston Bar Association, and named to the “45 Under 45” list of remarkable women lawyers by The American Lawyer in 2011.
“…be authentic and self-aware…”
Education: J.D. from Harvard Law School and A.B. from Princeton University
First Job: Secretary and teaching assistant for the Atlanta Urban League Office Systems Training Center
What I’m Reading: Inspirational devotionals by Tony Dungy, Joel Osteen and Marianne Williamson
Words I live by: “If I made it, it’s half because I was game enough to take a lot of punishment along the way and half because there were a lot of people who cared enough to help me.” – Althea Gibson
The most important quality a woman leader should have is…
…to be authentic and self-aware; to exhibit emotional intelligence in the cultivation of personal and professional relationships; to possess mental toughness, inner strength, resolve, self-confidence, resilience and tenacity; and to take risks and stretch assignments and be ready to re-invent yourself by developing in-demand subject matter expertise.
The career advice I’d give my former self:
In addition to developing my legal skills and subject matter expertise, focus from the very outset of my career on cultivating and nurturing a broad and diverse array of relationships and developing business and clients.
The one thing I’d do differently in my career, knowing what I know now, is…
…to hire an executive coach and business consultant early in my career to guide me in my professional development, including counseling me on how to be an effective manager, how to work with difficult people and how to leverage relationships to develop clients.
When I really need to focus on a project, I…
…prepare a written to-do list, shut down all electronic devices/distractions, shut my office door, take deep, cleansing breaths and set my intention through meditation and prayer.
My biggest career leap (and what I learned from it) was…
… transitioning from being a law firm associate to a partner. What I learned is the “business” of practicing law and that mastery of the business of law is essential to long-term success in the legal profession.
Being a woman in my profession has been…
…both a challenge and a benefit. The number of black women partners at Am Law 100 law firms remains less than 2 percent, and unconscious bias impacts adversely the advancement of women of color in the legal profession. But I strongly believe many attributes I have, often characterized as “female” attributes, make me a more effective attorney.
I’ve learned that failure is…
…inevitable in your career if you challenge yourself and take risks, but you will learn from failure. Failure does not define you, and your response should be to get better, and not become bitter.
I maintain a healthy personal life by…
…having an attitude of gratitude, focusing on my faith, reading motivational books, listening to inspirational songs, practicing yoga and spending time with my husband and family.
I knew my present career was what I wanted to do when…
…I was on the debate team in junior high school. I loved the research and analysis and preparing my arguments, as well as speaking in front of the judges and debating my opponent.