Spotlight Member Firm: Christian, Dichter & Sluga, P.C., Arizona and Nevada
By Timothy Reckart, Rusing Lopez & Lizardi, PLLC, Tucson, Arizona
We had the pleasure of meeting Alison Christian, a shareholder of Christian, Dichter & Sluga, P.C., at the Annual Meeting this past September. Because both of our firms are based in Arizona, we had that commonality as an opener. It was apparent within the first moments of our meeting that Alison Christian embodies the essential characteristics of NAMWOLF itself: a genuine commitment to partnership and inclusion. The environment of NAMWOLF exists because of the dedication and honesty of all its members and firms like Christian, Dichter & Sluga, P.C., typify the quality of those individuals involved. Ms. Christian’s answers to our spotlight questions not only highlight her firm, Christian, Dichter & Sluga, P.C., but too, accentuate the mission of equality that NAMWOLF exemplifies.
What are the firm’s significant areas of practice?
Our small firm has a singular commitment to being the best insurance coverage lawyers in the southwest. 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. Without insurance, the world as we know it could not operate.
Our job is to help insurers manage risk and reduce exposure. Since each claim (and each client) is unique, we work collaboratively with carriers to assess complex claims. Gena Sluga and I manage our firm’s insurance practice group and handle all commercial, property, and casualty lines, as well as excess, surplus, and specialty lines. We have an outstanding team of attorneys, with licenses in Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, and Texas.
Stephen Dichter heads our firm’s commercial litigation and white collar criminal defense practice groups. Steve has been practicing for over 40 years and is regarded as one of the best trial lawyers in Arizona.
What makes the Christian, Dichter & Sluga team so special?
The right people are the key to a successful business. And our firm has amazing people. I am so proud of our group of attorneys and 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).
Each 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.
How did your firm become involved in NAMWOLF? Why did you join?
Our firm first learned about NAMWOLF from the incomparable Janice Brown. Janice served as faculty on the Ladder Down program I co-founded in Arizona for women lawyers as an example of someone “walking the walk.” The Ladder Down program launched in Phoenix in 2013 and is built on three pillars: leadership, business development, and mentoring. This year-long program is unique in structure and content, and has enjoyed demonstrated success over the last three years in changing the way women approach the practice of law. You can learn more about Ladder Down at www.ladderdown.org. Janice mentioned NAMWOLF early in our relationship and explained how much her firm enjoyed being part of an organization that “got it.” I was instantly intrigued and the more I learned about NAMWOLF, the more committed I became to our firm joining.
Our firm’s succession planning always involved me and Gena Sluga becoming majority shareholders. That dream became a reality in 2015. Gena and I wanted to create a firm full of very bright lawyers who enjoy working on complex issues, and who still know how to enjoy life. As a woman-owned law firm, it is important for us to surround ourselves with lawyers, clients, and vendors who share our passion for diversity. After speaking with several NAMWOLF member firms, we knew that this organization’s values were in line with our own. The Ladder Down program has been in forefront of advancing women lawyers in Arizona, and NAMWOLF is embracing the same message on a national platform. We were incredibly excited at the prospect of joining NAMWOLF as the only Arizona women-owned member and saw this as a chance to continue to put Arizona on the map as a place where women’s voices will be heard.
Why is diversity important to your firm?
We have all seen the statistics: only 17 percent of equity partners in the nation’s largest 200 firms are women, only 2 percent of equity partners in the largest 100 firms are female minorities, and women make up the largest percentage of staff attorneys which are most often the lowest positions in the firm (Source: National Association of Women Lawyers and The NAWL Foundation’s 2013 Annual Survey on the Retention and Promotion of Women in Law Firms. www.nawl.org). These trends prevail even though women have continued to enter the practice of law for the past three decades at a rate of at least 40% of law school graduates every year. I did not go to law school to become a lifetime associate and these statistics were very hard for me to digest.
Fortunately, our firm is the exception to this norm. Doug Christian, my father and partner, has practiced in Arizona for over 40 years and he recognized early on that the face of the legal profession was going to change. If not out of necessity, out of conscious changes from a generation of men raising independent women. I heard someone once say “Never underestimate the power of a man with a daughter.” Well, my dad had two daughters. And we both became lawyers. And we both practice at our firm.
Diversity is not just something that our firm values or embraces. It is part of our firm’s identity. Gena Sluga began her career with Doug at a large firm and he quickly identified her as one of the smartest lawyers he knew. When Gena became pregnant with her second daughter, however, her billable hours suffered. She would not have survived at the firm if Doug had not advocated for her retention. He saw her potential and knew she was worth the investment; he did not let a few months of low hours stand in the way. With Doug in her corner, Gena went on to become one of the Top 25 Women Lawyers in Arizona and one of the 50 Most Influential Women in Arizona Business.
Our founding partners, Doug and Steve, built a firm that has given women lawyers the opportunity to thrive. Ten years later, it is now majority women-owned and Gena and I look forward to continuing to build on this foundation. We are an example of what happens when you care about an individual’s experiences, perspectives, and talents. Our firm is living proof of the difference diversity can make.