News & Insights

Swain Wood: Scoring Success in Opioid Settlements and Life Beyond the Law

By: Emily Yu

Following the announcement of a strategic alliance between Cozen O’Connor’s State AG Group and Swain Wood, Morningstar Law Group partner and former North Carolina First Assistant Attorney General, Cozen O’Connor associate Emily Yu sat down with Swain to learn more about his life in and out of the law. Swain offered a glimpse into his journey from growing up in his hometown of Winston-Salem, NC, through law school, to his time in the NC AG’s office.

Emily: What would you say was the most interesting aspect of your role as First Assistant AG?

Swain: The people, who are just amazing in so many ways, followed by the work, which is a fascinating mix of legal, political, and practical work. I wore many different hats, which made every day unique. Fortunately I had a strong foundation of trust with [NC AG] Josh Stein and the rest of the executive team; I couldn’t have been successful in my role as First Assistant AG without that.

“Chief deputies among the states have to trust each other for cooperation between AG offices.”

Not only that, but chief deputies among the states have to trust each other for cooperation between AG offices. For me, that mostly started from scratch when I assumed my role. I’ll credit my mom (Martha Swain Wood, from whom I got my somewhat unusual name, and who was the first female mayor of Winston-Salem), for teaching me that trust and mutual respect are the lifeblood of effective politics and policy.

Emily: As a former campaign staffer myself, I understand why you enjoyed politics from a young age. My favorite part was definitely handing out stickers at parades. What did you like best about life on the campaign trail?

Swain: I preferred being behind the scenes.

Emily: That probably served you well in your work as First Assistant AG. Speaking of that, I’d like to hear more about your experience working on the opioid settlements. Those settlements, between Fortune 50 companies and thousands of governmental entities, have been hailed as the most complex civil litigation in history. What was it like working on these landmark cases?

Swain: I viewed this litigation as a challenge, but also an opportunity.

“The opioid settlement work was complex and challenging but it was also incredibly rewarding. We obtained a result that worked for everyone and that will make a real difference.”

Aspects of the process I enjoyed the most were building relationships over the course of the settlement process and the teamwork that was required for round-the-clock negotiations. I also really enjoyed working across political divides. I believe issues like the opioid addiction epidemic shouldn’t be partisan.

Emily: Tell me a bit more about you as a person. What are your interests outside the law?

Swain: Soccer has been a longstanding passion of mine, and still is. That passion intersected with my then-future professional life in an unexpected way back in law school, when I met AG Stein at a soccer game in which he was playing and I was refereeing. He wasn’t a huge fan of some of the calls I made during that game. Little did I know that that soccer game would lead to a lasting and significant professional relationship.

Emily: I heard you just returned from an overseas trip. Where did you travel to?

Swain: Recently, I journeyed to Poland to watch my son play in a classical piano showcase. While I was there, I embraced the opportunity to explore the rich history and culture of the region. I’m a big traveler and something of a history buff.

Emily: I’m a history lover, too. I just took a weekend trip to Jamestown and Yorktown, VA, myself, somehow for the first time even though I’m a Virginia native. Being from Virginia, there’s no shortage of nearby historical sights to visit. Do you have any favorite local North Carolina historical sights?

Swain: Old Salem, an 18th Century-era settlement in my hometown of Winston-Salem, is fascinating. But I’ll concede that Virginia has a lot more. My favorite Virginia historic site is the Charlottesville home of Sally Hemings, known to many as Monticello.

Emily: Well, you’re always welcome to journey up our way for your historical sightseeing. Thanks so much for speaking with me, Swain. I and the entire Cozen O’Connor State AG Group look forward to working with you and getting to know you better.