The Life and Career of Joe Swimmer: The business of law at LexisNexis

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Q: What prompted you to leave private practice?

A: I really enjoyed the practice, but didn't enjoy the hours and being away from home and family. As much as I enjoyed the people that I worked with and the firms I practiced at, I've always had a bent in me that wanted to explore other areas—sales and the corporate side of America. Lexis was hiring for a local salesperson in San Francisco, someone that would service the type of law firm I was working in, the larger law firm. You do the training, talk about the products, present to the attorneys. This really fit with things that I wanted to do and strengths I believed I had.

I spent a little under a year in that position and then moved into an account-management role. I managed a group of law firms in the Bay Area and decided on the strategy we would take with those law firms in terms of increasing usage and bringing in new products. It was really terrific. It was an area in which I flourished and exceeded my goals. After about 18 months, I moved to the corporate side of Lexis, still servicing law firms, but I was responsible for the planning of our product line, what we would be bringing out to the large law firms in terms of technology.

Q: Based on your experience, what's your advice to students about how to find their niche?

A: I came to law school the way many other people get to law school. I was a history and religion major. Those are great if you're going to teach or be a professor. After taking off a year, traveling and getting a Master's degree in History, I just sort of ended up, "Okay, my parents are lawyers. I know I can make a good living there. I'll go to law school." I loved the study of law. It was an intellectually challenging experience. Coming out, in the back of my mind, I always knew: "I'm not sure that being an associate is going to be the fit for me."

After practicing for a couple of years, I did an inventory of my skills, my abilities, my interests. One of the things I found most valuable was a set of books published by the Gallup Organization. The first is called First, Break All the Rules. The second is called Now, Discover Your Strengths. That led me to think about something where I'm still in law—maybe not practicing law, but using my law degree that I spent $90,000 on. I knew that I liked the law and I liked lawyers and I had these strengths. Companies like LexisNexis offered prime opportunities to utilize my strengths and build on my professional background.

Q: What type of personality will fit best at LexisNexis?

A: It depends on the role. If you're going to be coming in as a research attorney, you need to be a person that has good research skills. Our research attorneys don't just answer the phone and help somebody construct a query. They also have been responsible for building out case summaries and head notes.

If you come in as a salesperson, it's consultative sales. You have to have a personality that's good working with a variety of different type of practitioners. We all know a partner can be very different from an associate can be very different from a senior associate, not only in their personalities and their comfort level with technology, but also in their expectations.

If you're on the corporate side, you have to have an ability to come up with corporate strategy, financials—all of those things you would think of for any corporation.

Q: What's one thing law school doesn't teach?

A: The business side of the world. We had a great professor who taught a Business for Lawyers course, but it wasn't even enough there. Going over financials and learning how to use spreadsheets—the business school type of approach to solving problems versus the more analytical approach you learn in law school.

Q: What's one thing grads should do when job hunting?

A: It's really important to begin thinking about what you want to do the day before you start law school. You don't want to decide "I'm going to be an energy practitioner" that first day, but you need to start thinking, "Do I want to practice law?" Do your deep dive into what it looks like. Talk to colleagues, friends, family members who are lawyers. Call up the bar association, and see if they can give you someone to talk with to give you a sense of the day-to-day life of lawyers in different roles. Begin that the day you apply to law school and throughout the process of law school. When you're in law school, don't limit yourself. Don't think, "The summer's coming up, so I better apply for a summer associateship or judicial clerkship." If that doesn't appeal to you, maybe there are other jobs, like at LexisNexis, where you work in a corporate environment using your legal background. And rely upon your career services organization.

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