Attorney at Law Magazine Phoenix Publisher Charlie Douglass sat down with Alison R. Christian to discuss her career and mentors that encouraged her.
AALM: Did you ever want to be anything other than an attorney?
Christian: I remember taking a trip to Sea World when I was kid and watching the Shamu show for the first time – I was instantly hooked. I was convinced there was no cooler job in the world than swimming with killer whales. It was my dream to be a Shamu trainer.
In pursuit of my Shamu-trainer dream, I went to college with the intention of studying marine biology. Freshman year I took my first marine biology course (complete with sunset “labs” at Carmel beach), convinced that this was the beginning of something great. After my less-than-stellar grade came back, my professor explained to me that I might be better suited for a career that did not involve math or science. I walked defeated across campus and passed the English department. One of the English professors offered me a bag of M&Ms and the rest was history.
AALM: What drew you to your current firm? How would you describe the culture there?
Christian: I was drawn to Christian Dichter & Sluga mostly by a genetic disorder. My younger sister joined our firm this year, so the disorder has greater strength than even I anticipated. But all kidding aside, each one of our attorneys is talented and ambitious enough to work at any firm they want – they choose CDS every day, and for that I am grateful. When I began my role as a partner at CDS I was inspired by the Zappos company culture. One of their mottos is “Be MacGyver: do more with less.” As a small firm, that is something that we live by. We don’t have the large firm budgets or teams of lawyers, but we go head-to-head with the Goliaths. And we win.
AALM: Do you have any mentors or professors that encouraged you along the way?
Christian: Our firm has a culture of building up young lawyers. I have been very fortunate to spend the majority of my career surrounded by attorneys who want me to succeed. Working at a firm with my father, my godfather Stephen Dichter and Gena Sluga has made the difference in my career. Each of them has shaped me into the lawyer I am, and will become. I hope they know each day how grateful I am for their guidance.
AALM: How would you describe your practice? What is your main area of law?
Christian: Our small firm has a singular commitment to being the best insurance coverage lawyers in the Southwest. I like to tell people, “We make the world safe for insurance companies. It’s a tough job, but somebody has to do it.” As part of our practice, we provide advice to large corporations to help minimize risk. In the event that litigation ensues, we serve as strategic partners with our clients to achieve great results. What most people fail to appreciate is that insurance law is unbelievably diverse. It touches every aspect of your life – the home you live in, the car you drive, the businesses you visit, the events you attend. No two cases that cross my desk are exactly alike and it keeps my practice interesting.
AALM: Are there any flaws in the legal profession that you see? If so, how would you fix them?
Christian: I would like to see more women lawyers in leadership roles at law firms. The statistics continue to report that women are underrepresented at the equity partner level across the country. One solution is to provide training to women lawyers that will help them become better businesswomen – not just better lawyers. To that end, I co-founded a program in 2012 called Ladder Down that is built on three pillars: leadership, business development and mentoring.
AALM: What do you find most rewarding in your day-to-day work as an attorney?
Christian: The right people are the key to a successful business. And our firm has amazing people. I am so proud of our group, getting to work with them is the most rewarding part of my day-to-day job. Litigation is stressful and high-stakes litigation for national corporations is even more stressful. Being surrounded by people who still know how to laugh and have fun makes it all worthwhile. Gena’s youngest daughter is our firm baker (because there is very little that baked goods can’t fix), we have “bring your dog to work” days (because puppies lower blood pressure), and we host pot-lucks on our patio (because, well, it’s Tuesday). I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else.