Photo of Dawn M. Johnson

Dawn M. Johnson


“Franchisors face traditional business and legal issues, but there are also very specific laws that govern those relationships in most states. Our team’s practical experience with those laws helps us to represent clients aggressively and efficiently.” 


  • Missouri
  • Illinois
  • U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Missouri
  • U.S. District Court, Western District of Missouri
  • U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois
  • U.S. District Court, Central District of Illinois
  • U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Wisconsin
  • U.S. Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit
  • U.S. Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit


J.D., Washington University School of Law, 1993

B.A., Eastern Illinois University, magna cum laude, 1983


As a leader of the firm’s Franchising & Distribution industry group, Dawn Johnson heads a team of litigation and transactional attorneys who represent clients nationally and internationally, from start-ups to some of the largest and most recognized brands.

Dawn’s practice focuses on all aspects of the franchise relationship, including termination and non-renewal, claims under state and federal relationship laws such as disclosure and fraud claims, and other claims that are common in these relationship disputes, such as breach of contract, fraud, tortious interference, deceptive trade practices, unlawful pricing, trademark infringement, unfair competition, violation of restrictive covenants, and indemnification claims. She represents franchisors in state and federal courts across the country, and in mediation and arbitration as franchisors increasingly use arbitration as their preferred dispute resolution method. Dawn’s practice includes other distribution models with industry-specific laws such as downstream petroleum marketing. Her deep experience in franchising and distribution also allows her to serve as background counsel on certain matters, providing a second opinion for businesses dealing with complex legal issues in those areas.

In addition to her work on behalf of franchisors and distributors, Dawn handles a range of general business disputes. She was an early leader at the firm in issues related to electronic discovery, and she continues to prioritize the importance of understanding e-discovery protocols and making sure clients follow the appropriate steps to avoid sanctions. Another important aspect of that work is recognizing when an opponent is not fulfilling obligations, and Dawn was able to get an entire case against an energy client dismissed after recognizing discovery abuses on the opposing side. She has presented to local and national groups about the issues facing litigants and their attorneys with respect to discovery of electronic information. In 2005, she argued what was believed to be the first case regarding electronic discovery before the Missouri Supreme Court.

With significant appellate experience, Dawn is co-leader of the appellate practice. She handles appeals and works closely with other trial lawyers in the firm to ensure that issues are properly preserved for appeal. She has argued before the Missouri Supreme Court and the Missouri Court of Appeals, Eastern and Western Districts, the Illinois Court of Appeals and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. Her appellate practice allows her to use her lengthy professional writing background.

Before attending law school, Dawn was an award-winning reporter for the Herald & Review daily newspaper in Decatur, Illinois. After law school, she continued her writing experience as law clerk to U.S. Magistrate Judge David D. Noce in the U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Missouri, from 1993 to 1997.

Dawn is a member of the firm's Board of Directors.

Professional Affiliations

  • Certified Franchise Executive, International Franchise Association, 2019 to present
  • American Bar Association, Section of Litigation; Forum on Franchising
  • The Franchise Lawyer, Associate Editor
  • International Franchise Association
  • International Distribution Institute
  • The Missouri Bar
  • Illinois State Bar Association
  • The Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis, St. Louis Lawyer, Board of Editors, 1997-2015

Community/Civic Activities

  • FOCUS St. Louis, Board of Directors, 2017-2023; Development Committee
  • FOCUS St. Louis, Leadership St. Louis, Class of 2011-2012
  • Safe Connections, Board of Directors, 2015-present
  • Eastern Illinois University Foundation Board of Directors, 2020 to present
  • City Arch River, Citizens Advisory Committee, 2013-2015
  • College Summit, St. Louis, volunteer writing coach, 2012-2013
  • College Summit Missouri Site Advisory Board, 2012-present, chair, 2015-present
  • Gateway Legal Services, Inc., Board of Directors, 2008-2019
  • Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis, Board of Governors, 2002-2004
  • The Compassionate Friends, Inc., Sibling Representative, Board of Directors, 1993-1996

Honors & Awards

Honors & Awards

  • The Best Lawyers in America, Franchise Law, 2021-2024; St. Louis area Franchise Law Lawyer of the Year, 2022, 2024
  • Distinguished Alumna, Eastern Illinois University, 2022
  • Women's Justice Award, Missouri Lawyers Media, 2022
  • Who's Who Legal: Franchise, 2017-2021
  • Decatur Public Schools Foundation, Alumna of the Year, 2014
  • Martindale-Hubbell AV Preeminent


Representative Matters

  • Part of lead counsel team for a major oil company in connection with dealers’ claims of unfair gas pricing. In a five-week bellwether trial, a jury found in favor of the energy company on the pricing claims from four plaintiffs.
  • Part of a team defending a major oil company in litigation related to a right of first option for a jet fuel pipeline at a major international airport after the client’s sale of a key West Coast refinery.
  • Part of a team defending a major oil company with state franchise, fraud and fuel pricing claims filed by multi-site operators in Illinois.
  • Part of a team defending a major oil company and its model multi-site operator contract with state franchise, fraud and breach of contract claims filed in California and Missouri.
  • Lead counsel for major oil companies in cases filed under the Petroleum Marketing Practices Act, often successfully obtaining summary judgment or defeating preliminary injunction motions filed by dealers.
  • Lead counsel for a major motor oil company in putative class action litigation regarding alleged commingling and misbranding by jobber (vicarious liability claims).
  • Lead counsel for major oil companies in litigation with jobbers regarding debranding issues, including trademark infringement and breach of contract.
  • Represented a major oil company with respect to zoning claims related to new gas station development.

News & Insights


Seminars & Speaking Engagements

  • June 20, 2023
  • Moderator, "What Your Future Franchise Lawyer Wishes You Knew Now" Roundtable
    Emerging Franchisor Conference 2022, Nashville, Tennessee, November 2022
  • “Terminating franchisees without ending up in litigation” 
    International Franchise Association Emerging Franchisor Conference, November 2021
  • Panelist, "Choosing effective dispute resolution clauses in distribution: choice of court clauses"
    International Distribution Institute 2021 Annual Conference, May 11, 2021
  • Moderator, "Regulatory Update"
    International Franchise Association's 2021 Virtual Legal Symposium, May 6, 2021
  • "So You Want to Arbitrate?  Ten (or More) Ways to Improve Your Arbitration Clause"
    Association of Corporate Counsel, St. Louis Chapter, September 15, 2017
  • "Big Data: Opportunities and Challenges in Litigation"
    ABA Petroleum Marketing Attorneys' Meeting, April 2014
  • "Brady v. National Football League: Scoring Points and Recovering Fumbles at Oral Argument"
    Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis Bench, Bar & Professional Development Conference, 2012
  • “Frequently Arising issues in Franchise Litigation (including Electronic Discovery)”
    International Franchise Association Legal Symposium, 2012
  • “Advanced Trial Skills”
    Issues in Electronic Evidence for Missouri State Court Trial Judges, 2012
  • “E-Discovery in Franchise Disputes"
    Business Solutions Roundtable, International Franchise Association Legal Symposium, January 1, 2011
  • "Effective Oral Advocacy in Trial and Appellate Courts: Showstoppers or Case-Stoppers"
    Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis Bench, Bar & Professional Development Conference, 2011
  • “Major Case Developments”
    Petroleum Marketing Attorneys Conference, March 2009
  • “E-Discovery: The New Rules”
    Healthcare Roundtable for Corporate Counsel, 2007
  • “Electronic Discovery: Litigation in a Computer-Dominated Society”
    St. Louis Association of Legal Assistants, 2007
  • "Avoiding Electronic Document Retention Pitfalls"
    The Missouri Bar/Judicial Conference Annual Meeting, 2006
  • "Electronic Information in the Workplace: Problems and Solutions"
    Client Seminar, 2006
  • “Electronic Discovery: Views from the Bench and Bar”
    Missouri Society of Health Care Lawyers, Missouri Hospital Association Annual Conference, 2006
  • “Essentials for Class Action and Commercial Litigators”
    Women Lawyers’ Association of Greater St. Louis, Midwest Regional Conference for Women in the Law, 2006
  • "Electronic Discovery: Litigation in a Computer-Dominated Society"
    The Missouri Bar/Judicial Conference Annual Meeting, 2005


Articles & Books


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