Susan Swan: Soaring to Success
Susan Swan is the owner of Swan Employment Law, an esteemed employment law practice in San Diego. At Swan Employment Law, Ms. Swan, accompanied by two associates, primarily practices plaintiff-side employment law. Through hard work, a good reputation, and her involvement in the community, Susan Swan has developed her career from an intern to a successful business owner and is therefore the subject of this member spotlight.
A near-San Diego native (she moved to Encinitas when she was a child), Ms. Swan is a product of the Encinitas public school system, but ventured east for college, attending the University of Wisconsin–Madison. She cited her wanderlust as the reason for the move, and a desire to try something different. After college, the wanderlust continued, and she moved to Washington, D.C. to work for the U.S. Census Bureau on the 2000 census.
Later, Ms. Swan moved back to San Diego, where she worked for KB Home and helped with construction defect matters. After listening in on a few meetings and interacting with the in-house counsel for KB Home, Ms. Swan developed an interest in the law. She got a feel for how lawyers think, work, and advise their clients, and decided this was something she was interested in. Ms. Swan had previously thought about becoming a lawyer, and actually had taken the LSAT previously (twice!). But, her time at KB Home reignited this interest, and she again took the LSAT and enrolled at Hastings Law School.
Due to her time working at KB Home, it is no surprise that Ms. Swan’s primary interest during law school was real estate law, and she believed she would end up practicing in that field. However, her interests changed as she gained more experience—a process to which many of us can relate. During her second year of law school, Ms. Swan interned at the United Auto Workers Union in Detroit, Michigan. She dealt with employment and contract issues and developed a passion for representing unions and practicing employment law.
Following that summer, Ms. Swan learned that the firms that represent unions are few and far between, and not many were hiring at the time. Ms. Swan worked tirelessly to get a job at one of these firms by setting up informational interviews, sending and re-sending her resume, and doing anything she could to get her foot in the door. Finally, there was an opening, and she was hired as an associate at Schwartz, Steinsapir, Dohrmann & Sommers in Los Angeles.
Ms. Swan’s biggest case at this firm was representing a labor union for Ralphs grocery store workers. Ralphs had locked its employees out during a strike, but then hired some employees back using fake names and information. Ralphs was prosecuted for this conduct, pled guilty to several charges, and agreed to pay $50 million in restitution for employees, along with $20 million in fines. In representing the union, Ms. Swan and her firm worked alongside federal prosecutors for a fair distribution of the restitution to the workers. This experience sparked Ms. Swan’s interest in criminal law, and she, like many attorneys in the FBA, found she very much enjoyed being in court.
As a result, Ms. Swan applied to work for state district attorneys, and she was hired in Ventura County. While there, Ms. Swan did eighteen trials in eighteen months! Yes, it was exhausting. But, she gained invaluable trial experience and learned a great deal. The experience was not only beneficial to her, but she felt her work was important. She gave one example of receiving a guilty verdict in a case against an uncle who had abused his nephew, and she was pleased that she helped secure justice for the child.
After eighteen busy and often stressful months, Ms. Swan left the DA’s office and moved back to San Diego, where she worked for Gruenberg Law, practicing employment law. While at Gruenberg, she also realized another one of her strengths was business development. To her, it was simple: attend events that you find interesting and become involved in organizations that are important to you, and don’t be afraid to talk to people. Ms. Swan was authentically interested in meeting new people, learning more, and engaging with the legal community. With that, she began bringing in business for the firm and realized that she could start her own firm to gain more autonomy.
Swan Employment Law
So she did, and Swan Employment Law was born. Of course, it’s not that easy. Ms. Swan emphasized that she has good moral and emotional support from her partner, and she is grateful that her then-boyfriend and now-husband believed in her enough to help her pursue her dream.
At her firm, Ms. Swan primarily represents clients in sexual harassment, discrimination—primarily pregnancy, gender, and disability—and whistleblower cases. What she loves about her firm is having the time to put into each case. At Swan Employment Law, each case is truly important, and “quality over quantity” is not just something they say. Ms. Swan likes that she is able to put the time into each case that it deserves and take the time to do what she loves for each case—which is conceptualize each matter, and truly plan out and strategize the best result for her clients. Ms. Swan also enjoys that she can practice in state court and federal court, and also in arbitration.
Ms. Swan is clearly passionate about her work and helping her clients. She recounted the time during her first pregnancy where she was forced to go on bed rest for four months. This was a memorable experience in many ways, partially because she was forced to take eleven depositions over the phone (pre-COVID, when doing so wasn’t common) and because she realized how much she appreciated being able to work during this forced setback in her life. In her experience, many companies are not sympathetic towards pregnant woman and treat pregnancy as an inconvenience. Ms. Swan’s personal experience showed her how important it is to protect the rights of pregnant women, and how much she can help her clients achieve justice if they are not offered reasonable accommodations during pregnancy.
Ms. Swan also has a busy life outside of the law. She has two daughters, ages one and three, and loves to swim (with and without her daughters). She loves to cook and travel, and she is looking forward to more travel and more time with extended family post pandemic. She is also involved in the legal community through Lawyers Club, the FBA (of course), and the Consumer Attorneys of San Diego. Like her practice, her community involvement is well rounded.
We asked Ms. Swan for advice for newer lawyers. She first told us what she tells all her associates: it’s important to realize that you don’t know everything. In fact, there is so much that we don’t know! However, the answer to your research project and to your question is out there, but you need to use your resources. Every case should involve researching issues from top to bottom—make sure you always consider local rules and chambers rules in addition to statutes and case law. Use templates and treatises, and anything else at your disposal (she mentioned using the Rutter guide, something we all love!).
Ms. Swan’s career path is illuminating and promising to those who may be considering starting their own firm. Your ideal career is out there, and Ms. Swan shows it is possible to grow from an intern to an associate to a successful business owner, while loving what you do and working every day to ensure the best result for your clients. As Ms. Swan put it: be genuine. Do what you are truly interested in doing. If you love what you do, you don’t have to fake anything, and you are more likely to be successful and happy. This will lead to referrals, business, and happy clients.
* Hannah Brown is a member of the San Diego Chapter of the Federal Bar Association and its Public Relations Committee. She practices intellectual property litigation and commercial litigation at Gordon Rees Scully Mansukhani, LLP and clerked for the Hon. Cynthia Bashant and the Hon. Janis Sammartino in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California.