Heath Dixon, ’01, is senior corporate counsel for intellectual property operations at Amazon, in Seattle. “I love what I’m doing and where I’m doing it,” Dixon says, “even though practically everything about it is different from what I had anticipated at earlier stages of my career.”
After college, he taught for four years at a public high school in Texas, the state where he grew up. Having been a successful debater in high school and college, he coached the school’s debate team. “Those four years were among the most important of my life,” he said, “but I did think I could help schools on a broader scale if I became an education lawyer, and that was my expectation when I came to Chicago.”
His focus shifted from education when he became fascinated by technology issues, by the ambiguities that occurred in the law as the world shifted from analog to digital. And his expectation that his debating skills would lead to litigation changed after his 1L summer job, when a small business owner wrote to thank him for having talked him out of suing a supplier who had failed to meet an obligation. “He said I had helped him stay focused on building his business, and that it had been an important lesson for him,” Dixon said. “I felt like I made a difference for him.”
At the position he took after graduation, with Hughes & Luce in Dallas, another expectation was revised. “I liked the firm a lot and I thought that I’d become a partner there and be a firm lawyer my whole career,” he reflected. Then he was seconded to Electronic Data Services (EDS), the multinational information technology and services company, where he was charged with repairing EDS’s relationship with one of its largest customers, a 700-million-dollar account. “I got to help repair a broken relationship, and I really enjoyed being more deeply involved with building the business than I was while at the firm,” he recalled.
He worked at EDS for four years, and then, in 2010, Amazon called. Dixon and his wife, Ashley, had both been raised in the Southwest and had never even visited Seattle. They had good friends in Dallas, they had family nearby, and they had started their own family. But they decided to take a chance. “We love the Pacific Northwest now,” he said. “Ashley says that if I ever take another job, it can be anywhere, as long as it’s in Seattle.”
The nature of his work has shifted several times at Amazon. His current role is to help Amazon systematize and improve the way it secures and protects its intellectual property assets. “There are a lot of smart, experienced people who know far more than I do about protecting Amazon’s IP. I get to learn from them and help them find ways to scale and simplify. It’s great to keep learning more areas and even expanding nonlegal skills,” he said.
Looking back, he said that his experience at the Law School also contradicted his expectations: “I had heard about how grueling and competitive Chicago would be, and I had kind of braced myself, but I loved it. When people argued, it was like debate—constructive and considerate, not angry. And of course everyone worked hard to do well, but so much of it was working together, not working against each other. I can’t imagine a better academic environment.”
One other expectation has changed, one that belonged to his father, a successful construction executive who didn’t care much for lawyers and who told his son that he would pay for any education he wanted to pursue—except law school. “In his experience, people in business built things, while lawyers not only didn’t build anything, they mostly got in the way of those who did,” Dixon said. “He’s a great man, my father, and I’m glad he’s come to see that his son, the lawyer, is also someone who is helping to build things.”