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Leading Women of Long Beach: Dawn McIntosh, Long Beach’s First Woman City Attorney

Long Beach Moms proudly shines a spotlight on the remarkable local women of our community who are history-makers. These women exemplify resilience, passion, and dedication, leaving an indelible mark on the vibrant tapestry of Long Beach. Join Angelica Wheaton, founder of Long Beach Moms, in discovering their inspiring stories and extraordinary contributions to our city and beyond.

Meet Dawn McIntosh, Long Beach’s City Attorney, a pioneering force reshaping the legal landscape of our city. As the first woman to hold this position, her innovative approaches and unwavering commitment to justice set a precedent for future leaders. Dawn’s leadership inspires empowerment and represents a significant milestone in Long Beach’s history.

Can you share with us a bit about your journey to becoming a local history maker while balancing the responsibilities of raising a family in Long Beach?

I survived!  As your members certainly know, raising a family takes a lot of time, energy, and effort.  Working many hours per week as a litigator and environmental lawyer, for six years with a federal agency but mostly in private practice, while my kids were growing up made me very, very efficient.  I’m also a star multi-tasker.  Eight years ago, after 24 years of law practice, I joined the City Attorney’s office in Long Beach and that has changed my life.  It has been so rewarding to give my talents and time to my community while also being better able to balance the demands of work and family.  Several years ago, after I was promoted to Assistant City Attorney, then City Attorney Charlie Parkin decided not to run for re-election.  I realized my experience prior to and since joining the City made me uniquely situated to lead the office.  I was still trepidatious about the idea of running for election, but my husband encouraged me to run and Charlie supported me so I decided to go for it.  I’d never considered running for political office, but life is full of new experiences.  Fortunately, I won the election and am now the first woman elected as City Attorney of Long Beach. I am so fortunate to have a fantastic office of talented attorneys and legal and administrative staff who work hard every day to make the City better.

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced on your path to making history, and how did you overcome them? 

How many women have had to pretend they were in a “meeting” when they were actually attending an event at their kid’s school, or volunteering in their classroom, or taking them to a doctor’s appointment? As a woman lawyer, if you would tell people you were doing things for your kids you were considered not committed to your job.  When I was in private practice, I once had a partner at our firm tell me he never gave me any work because the only thing he knew about me was that I was part-time (80% time), so he took that to mean I would not do good work for his clients.  I challenged him to find any client I had worked with who had any idea I worked part-time.  Part-time meant fewer hours per year, but I always did everything the client needed when they needed it.  Our firm also didn’t allow part-time partners, which made it difficult for me to bring in clients and move into a leadership role.  I had several people who told me they would only hire an attorney if she was a partner, or if attorneys were good, they were partners, meaning I clearly wasn’t good enough or I would be a partner.  I just kept pushing forward, doing great work and working hard to find opportunities for leadership and growth.  I mentored younger attorneys, took on lead responsibility for cases and projects and did my best to make the firm a better place to work.  Everything I did on this journey made me perfectly positioned to join the Long Beach City Attorney’s office in 2016.  When I moved to the City Attorney’s office, I worked full time handling all types of legal issues for the Port of Long Beach, but I also assisted with some environmental lawsuits against the City and other issues involving my expertise.  Meanwhile, while on my career journey, every night and on weekends I had to carve out time to help the kids with their homework, get them to and from dance, choir, marching band, jazz band, and other activities, make dinner, etc.  I was also my daughter’s Girl Scout troop leader for 12 years.  It seems impossible now thinking back on it, but at the time, you just do it.  I hired high school kids who were kids of friends and neighbors to drive my kids to activities when I was out of town.  I coordinated with friends to share pick up and drop off responsibilities and volunteer obligations.  We ate dinner at 9pm many nights after my kids activities because that was what worked.  I realized I could make stroganoff from a box and my family would be just fine (sorry to my chef friends), in fact they LOVED it!  Trader Joes’ ready to heat up meals were also a lifesaver.  You give up the “perfect” or even what other people are doing and do things the way that works best for your family.  

Making history is often a profound experience. Can you describe what it felt like when you realized you were breaking new ground in your field or community?

I was truly awed when I realized I would make history as the first woman City Attorney of Long Beach if I won the election.  I felt and still feel a deep sense of responsibility to do an excellent job, partly because I know I will be under extra scrutiny as the first woman in the position, but mostly because the electorate put their faith in me.  I know how important role models are for kids and I feel truly honored that I can show girls that they can do these types of jobs if they want to.  Hard work will bring opportunities, and I feel very fortunate that all of the interesting work I’ve done over the years led me to this amazing job.  

How do you think your accomplishments have impacted the local community, particularly Long Beach Moms who may be inspired by your story?

I am a true believer that you can do anything you put your mind to.  If someone decides to go after something they thought was unattainable because they are inspired by my story or someone else’s, then we have helped make the world a better place.  That is always my goal and what brings me joy.

Balancing family life and career aspirations is a common struggle for many moms. Can you share any insights or advice on how you managed to pursue your goals while raising a family?

I used every moment and often sacrificed sleep.  I’ll be honest, it was hard.  I loved my kids and my job, and wouldn’t have done it differently, but it was a challenge.  When something didn’t go as planned (babysitter I hired to drive my kid home from dance called me from the ER having an allergic reaction while I was sitting in an airport in Sacramento), I went into crisis mode to find another plan, another solution. I spent a lot of time in crisis mode, finding solutions.  But I’ll tell you, it makes you really good at adapting and not overreacting when things don’t go as you planned.   Also, build a strong community of other parents, then ask for help and offer help.  That was a lifesaver for me.  If you have a partner, share responsibility.  Give each other support and breaks.  Keeping your identity as a person (other than a mom) is so important to getting through stressful times.  

As a local woman who has made history, what role do you see yourself playing in empowering future generations, especially women and mothers in Long Beach?

I love encouraging people to take risks, do what you love, break out of your comfort zone and believe in yourself.  You are not perfect, none of us is.  If you want to do something or achieve something, get the skills you need and go for it.  I have had a number of young women tell me they are inspired by me and want to pursue a legal career.  I love that! 

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