“Never presume that people understand the legal process,” says Dawn Johnson. “Never presume you, as an attorney, understand the clients. I learned that from a witness I was examining when he told me he couldn’t read.”
Johnson’s first exposure to criminal and civil proceedings in the courts began when she became a reporter for the Herald & Review daily newspaper in Decatur, Illinois. Born and raised in Decatur, she holds a journalism degree from Eastern Illinois University. As a reporter, she had to ask tough questions and write stories about people she knew.
“My brother was killed when he was a passenger in a drunk driving accident,” Johnson says. “That was a life-changing event for me. Our family’s very unpleasant experience with the criminal justice system motivated me to start working on a career in law.”
Vowing she would never treat her clients the way her family was treated, Johnson earned her JD from Washington University School of Law. “While in law school, I worked in the Urban Law Clinic and at Legal Services of Eastern Missouri,” she says. “I represented prisoners at a correctional center. I had an extraordinary opportunity to work on a case with two excellent attorneys. We uncovered massive 8th Amendment violations at the prison regarding medical care.”
In 1997, Johnson joined Greensfelder, Hemker & Gale, P.C. Currently, she is the only female on the firm’s board of directors. She co-leads the litigation side of the Franchising & Distribution practice — one of the largest and most experienced franchise practices in the U.S. — and is co-leader of the appellate practice. She represents franchisors in disputes over termination agreements, non-compete and trade secrets matters, and trademark infringement. She also serves as second opinion counsel for other cases.
One of her most memorable cases was a long and difficult fraud case against their client. She lived in Chicago for three months, including Thanksgiving weekend into January. Following the bench trial in Cook County Circuit Court, their client prevailed. The plaintiffs’ team was shocked, and she recalls “quite a scene” in the courtroom the day the judge presented his 30-page opinion.
A vocal advocate of finding ways to resolve litigation disputes outside the courtroom, Johnson holds a certificate from the Early Dispute Resolution Institute. “I’m here to help my clients resolve disputes within 30 to 60 days of filing or even before filing a lawsuit,” she says. “They want to resolve disputes as early as possible with the least cost and time possible. They want to get on with their lives and focus on running and growing their businesses.”
Johnson believes justice is for everyone. “In dealing with large companies, I know I’m dealing with human beings, with people who often aren’t familiar with the court system,” she says. “Communication is crucial. Even when I have to deliver bad news to a client, I know those moments will be easier because we’ve been communicating throughout the entire legal process. From prisoners to international corporations, everyone is entitled to justice, the truth and the facts of the case.”