Athena Dickson begins the conversation with an interruption.
“Could you do me a favor and give me just one second so I can get my son started on another project?” she says on the phone.
She is apologetic, but there is, of course, no need to apologize. Like everyone, she is trying to keep a lot of balls in the air at the same time. It’s just that Dickson has more to juggle than most.
Dickson, a partner at Siro Smith Dickson in Kansas City, is the president of the Kansas City Metropolitan Bar Association and an elected member of The Missouri Bar’s Board of Governors. She previously has served as president of the Association for Women Lawyers of Greater Kansas City, the Young Lawyers Section of KCMBA and the Jackson County Law Library Board. She is the coordinator for AWL’s Connections program, which pairs young female lawyers with mentors within the legal community. Organizations that have benefited from her civic engagement range from Read Across America to Lawyers Encouraging Academic Performance.
She concedes that she has “a little bit of a problem saying no.”
“I love attorneys, and I love that they do so much for our community, and I want to be involved in that as much as I can,” she said.
It’s a pattern that Dickson set early in her career, when Rik Siro, her one-time boss and now-law partner, encouraged her to get involved in the legal community. It worked, both to help her build her network and to establish her professional home.
Dickson has spent almost her entire career at Siro’s firm. As a law student at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, she worked there as a law clerk. She was hired as an associate after she earned her law degree in 2003. She is now a name partner.
“He hasn’t been able to get rid of me ever since,” she jokes.
Her practice encompasses personal injury, workers’ compensation, employment discrimination and Social Security disability — areas that give her a chance to fight battles for her clients. Dickson’s first brush with the legal system was her parents’ divorce when she was in her early teens.
“It wasn’t the greatest situation ever,” she said, “but I will say that I looked at the attorneys and the judges and I thought, ‘This would be something I’d want to do.’ . . . It just seemed like they had a purpose.”
In her inaugural speech as KCMBA president in December 2019, Dickson asked audience members to raise their hands if, like her, they were the first person in their families to go to college. After earning a degree in criminal justice in 2000 from what is now Missouri Western State University, Dickson worked briefly as a legal assistant, which quickly rekindled her desire to go to law school.
A change in plans was good training for someone destined to take the reins of KCMBA just months before a pandemic. Dickson had to help shift the association’s work to a remote platform, organize virtual town halls with local judges and try to keep members’ spirits up and sanity intact. All the while, she’s been working from home while walking her three elementary-age children through their school work.
Dickson reminds herself that, as much she’d like to, she can’t do everything all of the time.
“There have to be times when we step back and say, ‘OK, right now I’m a teacher, right now I’m a mom, right now I’m a lawyer,’” she said.