As a third-grader, Joan Swartz came home from school one day upset. She doesn’t remember why, but she knew what she wanted to do about it.
That’s when she told her mother she wanted to be a lawyer to fix problems like that day’s transgression. She stayed on a steady course ever since.
“We have no lawyers in our family,” Swartz said. “I hadn’t had occasion to even meet a lawyer by the time I was 9, but I was always on that track. It was a career choice that stayed with me.”
The native of north St. Louis County attended Saint Louis University for her undergraduate degree and graduated from law school there in 1987, before going to work as an associate at Lashly and Baer. The St. Louis firm had a lot of business clients, but Swartz kept drawing interest from small-business clients, which were not the firm’s focus. She began considering solo practice, and established her own firm 15 years ago.
Due to her leadership as an attorney and her activity in several local and national law organizations, Swartz has been selected for a Missouri Lawyers Weekly Influential Lawyer Award. Swartz has served as president of the Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis and in leadership roles in the American Bar Association. Through her work with BAMSL, Swartz is also a founding member of Motion for Kids, a program that throws a day-long holiday party for kids who have parents who are impacted by the criminal justice system.
The event started small, but now takes place in the Edward Jones Dome and serves 4,000 children.
“One of the things I find most rewarding about what I do as a lawyer is that we can serve as change agents,” Swartz said. “We also can serve as great equalizers. We can right wrongs. I don’t think I’m done doing that.”
Much of Swartz’s practice involves representing small businesses, but she represents other clients, too. Swartz recently won a major victory, along with fellow attorneys Chris McDonough and Ryan Shaughnessy. The team obtained a $7 million verdict for Matthew Vacca, an administrative law judge with muscular dystrophy. Vacca sued the Missouri Department of Labor and Industrial Relations, Division of Workers’ Compensation, and former division director Brian May, over discrimination and retaliation.
“It’s a pretty cool thing that you can have a job where you can look at something like that and think, ‘if I don’t do this who is going to fix this,’ and being able to take that on,” Swartz said.