Where Are They Now? Katherine Swanson '09

November 11, 2014

Katherines Wanson

Katherine is the founder and attorney at her solo legal practice, The Law Office of Katherine Swanson in Los Angeles, California.

What did you study at Simmons?

I was a psychology major and a management minor.

What's a typical day like at your job?

What I love about my job is that every day is different. I just launched my solo practice so right now I'm working on building my clientele and doing some pro bono work to build connections with community organizations and gain some experience. This includes taking established attorneys out for coffee to hear about how they started their practices, sending networking emails, donating pro bono hours to area nonprofits and assisting my own clients. My hours are very flexible and I typically work from home, so I'm able to sneak out of the office for a lunchtime swim or take a break for late afternoon playtime with my pets.

What made you start your own business?

Throughout my legal career I've seen the issues that many people have accessing the court system. Attorneys can charge $300+ per hour for their services. Nonprofit organizations have been pushed to their limits and cannot assist everyone who needs it. Between the people who can afford to pay an attorney $300 per hour and the people that qualify for legal aid is a large number of people who need legal services but cannot afford a lawyer. I wanted to start a solo practice that could address the needs of those people.

What's your favorite part of your job?

I like being able to structure my work/life balance. I've held jobs where employees weren't allowed to request days off in November and December and I've interviewed for many jobs in the legal sector that require a 12 hour work day in a cut throat environment. I also love that I get to pick the area of law I work in. In my current job I get to work with a population I'm passionate about. I assist and perform essential legal services and I have the power to structure my life in a way that works for me.

How did you know self-employment was a good fit for you?

As I started interviewing for jobs, I knew many of them were not a good fit. I'd been playing with the idea of a solo practice in my head for a while but after leaving an interview at a male dominated organization that wasn't welcoming to women employees -- and where the managing partner told me I would be working 12+ hour days -- I knew I needed to work for myself, pursuing the clients and cases that I was passionate about. I have always been very self-motivated so I wasn't concerned about not putting enough time into the solo practice to be successful.

What was your favorite class you took at Simmons? Why?

I took many classes that I loved at Simmons, but the most important class I took was Race, Culture and Education with Theresa Perry during my first semester. The class was mind expanding and I was able to establish an important mentorship with Professor Perry. Other classes I loved included Women in Literature with Kelly Hager and Drugs and Behavior, Politics Unplugged and The Black Struggle for Schooling in America with Professor Perry. Can you tell I loved the classes at Simmons?

If you could come back and take one class at Simmons what would it be?

Just one?! Women in Politics! I always wanted to take that class but I never had time in my schedule for it. I was also two classes away from completing an English major, so if I could go back and finish that concentration that would be lovely.

How has it been transitioning into a young professional?

Transitioning into a career has been an interesting experience. I went to law school directly after graduating from Simmons. It was a big shift, moving from a woman's college to law school. After three years of law school I had to take the bar and I graduated into a very tough economy for lawyers. At times it felt like two steps forward, one step back. Simmons nurtured an enthusiastic energy which has sustained me since graduation.

How did Simmons help prepare you for your career?

Simmons taught me the importance of networking and building relationships. Simmons doesn't just talk the talk about building community. I still have a network of classmates from Simmons who have supported me and cheered me on.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

I would like to be running my own nonprofit, dipping my feet into local politics in Los Angeles, and potentially running for office.

What advice would you give to the current Simmons undergraduate students?

Get as much hands-on work experience as possible and find a good mentor. Almost all of my internships in college came from mentorships I established. My mentor from college, Theresa Perry, also coached me through the rigorous law school admission process. Even today, my mentors have helped me connect with the other attorneys who are helping me start my practice.