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Eighteen years is a long time, and there’s no better illustration of Jerry Swindell’s tenure at Johnson & Johnson (J&J) than his son, who had just come into the world when the current chief antitrust counsel came to J&J in the early 2000s. Just as his son has grown the past eighteen years, so has J&J’s legal organization.
“When I got here, there were probably 150 lawyers throughout the company who were primarily stateside, and 70 percent of those lawyers were in one building in New Brunswick, New Jersey,” Swindell explains. “Now, we’ve got three hundred lawyers in nearly every country where our products are sold. To paraphrase an old saying, ‘the sun never sets on the J&J legal organization.’”
Swindell admits his main concern coming in-house so many years ago was that he might get bored. The attorney had amassed impressive antitrust and white-collar criminal experience at firm Vinson & Elkins prior to going into antitrust work on behalf of the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC). He was used to learning about different industries with every project.
But he soon learned, however, that the antitrust issues in pharmaceutical and medtech markets are always evolving. Emerging antitrust enforcement theories also keeps him on his toes.
Swindell, too, has changed over the past eighteen years. He has been able to grow what was a team of one into a department of three attorneys that he now oversees, tackling J&J’s biggest antitrust and M&A issues. The work has always stayed interesting and is evolving.
Early in his law career, Swindell’s most defining moment was having the opportunity to represent an elderly woman in Washington, DC, through an organization called Legal Counsel for the Elderly, a nonprofit created by AARP to provide pro bono services for those in need.
“This woman was the target of subprime mortgage lenders and had been cheated out of the equity in her house,” Swindell remembers. “We filed a complaint and, ultimately, through litigation, we were able to negotiate the extinguishment of those predatory loans. She got her house back free and clear and a little money in her pocket for the trouble.”
The process showed Swindell the power attorneys have to make a direct impact on the people who need it the most, to be a voice for those who are often rendered the most powerless by circumstances beyond their control or understanding.
That mission was part of the motivation for Swindell moving to the FTC and provided a clear direction for his turn in-house.
“Part of the reason I’ve stayed at J&J so long is the products that we make,” the chief antitrust counsel says. “It feels good to contribute to the acquisition of products that may take years of effort and significant resources to receive FDA approval and reach patients. I’ve seen products that take six years or more to get to market that ultimately help save lives. That’s a tremendous, tremendous feeling.”
Growing Skills, Future Leaders
Just as Swindell’s work has continued to change at J&J, so have his responsibilities. The lawyer was used to being the individual performer who got good work done. But that has changed somewhat over the last few years. Swindell is still producing great work, but he’s now stepped into a leadership role as well.
“I’ve been practicing for twenty-eight years, so I feel like I know my discipline pretty well,” he reflects. “For the last four years, I’ve been working on exercising my people leader skills, and my priority has become what I can do to help my team grow.” That team includes a lawyer in Washington, DC, and another in Brussels.
“Weil has had the privilege of partnering with Johnson & Johnson as antitrust counsel for more than twenty-five years on some of the company’s most important transactions,” says Jeff Perry, partner at Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP. “Jerry has a deep passion for the legal profession and is dedicated to Johnson & Johnson’s mission as well as mentoring and training the next generation of legal talent. He is an absolute pleasure to work with and we look forward to continuing to work together for years to come.”
Swindell has also helped lead diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives both in-house at J&J and on behalf of the company’s outside counsel. He helped develop the J&J Pathways Fellowship, a program designed to increase the diversity of first chair trial lawyers for the company.
When it comes to J&J’s outside counsel, Swindell says there is a profound need for trial lawyers who reflect the juries they are in front of in every jurisdiction of the US. “It’s our view that diverse teams provide us with the best chance to win in court,” he says. “It’s not just the right thing to do, which it is, but it also can be a strategic advantage in litigation.”
Be Like Ike
Jerry Swindell is always looking to the future, but the lawyer likes to spend his free time studying the past, particularly World War II military history. When asked which leader he’s sought to emulate, the lawyer laughs at the comparison but suggests famed general and President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Eisenhower was inherently likable, an optimist, and trusted by all those around him. He smiled even through his many trials. The consensus he worked to build and the endless balancing of priorities and personalities he was able to manage makes sense for an in-house attorney responsible for working across multiple departments and stakeholders.