Former Biglaw Partner Caught Doing Long Stint In Traffic Court. At The Bench. Because He’s A Judge There Now.

Judges Gavel And Dollar Cash

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Many an optimistic soul has had their ten-year plan derailed by the combination of keeping up with the Joneses and looking down to see golden handcuffs. We all know at least one member of our cohort that somehow went from a personal statement about the importance of fighting for the little guy to making 6 figures doing… not that. The betrayals start small: I’ll work long enough to pay off my student loans becomes long enough to pay off the house becomes “Well someone has to put the kids through school” — and at that point your 35th work anniversary is just around the corner.

In what should be motivation for many, a top Quinn Emanuel partner had enough guts to finally get to the giving back part of his career. From Bloomberg Law:

[Stephen] Swedlow, 52, last year left Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan after winning a seat as a judge in Illinois’ Cook County. The longtime Chicagoan has been presiding over DUI trials and traffic violations in the city’s downtown Loop for most of the past six months.

Swedlow put up nearly $1 million of his own money for the privilege to toil at the lowest levels of the state’s judiciary. After leading a massive litigation that could net his former firm $185 million in fees, he’s making about the same as what Quinn Emanuel pays its first-year lawyers.

“People in Big Law say to themselves, ‘If I just get to this number, I can stop,’” Swedlow said in an interview, referring to how much money is enough to walk away. “So I made up a number. I got to that number, and I made up a new number. And then I got to that number, and I decided to stop and go into public service.”

“I think most people just keep making up new numbers,” he said.

Listen, once you get to the point where you can sink a cool million to wag your finger at people who got caught speeding, its safe to assume that your nest egg looks more like a baker’s dozen. And what do you get the man that has everything? Either a good story or a new experience, and Swedlow is getting his fair share of both at the new gig:

“It’s a totally, totally different experience from having two dozen associates who’d do everything administratively that I’d need done,” Swedlow said. “Before, I’d only go to a Zoom meeting that somebody sent me a link to. Then I became a judge and I had to organize the Zoom, create the breakout rooms. I became a Zoom master.”

Happy judging, Swedlow! I wish you as many jury trials as your heart can take. Don’t forget to keep up with your disclosures when it’s time to hand in that paperwork. Only Supreme Court justices get a pass on that sort of thing. Well, not Kagan, she actually does what ethics require of her. I’m not trying to say any names or anything. Ok, I’m talking about Clarence, Alito, and Gorsuch. Don’t pull one of those.

Top Quinn Emanuel Partner Starts Over as Traffic Court Judge [Bloomberg Law]

Chris Williams became a social media manager and assistant editor for Above the Law in June 2021. Prior to joining the staff, he moonlighted as a minor Memelord™ in the Facebook group Law School Memes for Edgy T14s.  He endured Missouri long enough to graduate from Washington University in St. Louis School of Law. He is a former boatbuilder who cannot swim, a published author on critical race theory, philosophy, and humor, and has a love for cycling that occasionally annoys his peers. You can reach him by email at and by tweet at @WritesForRent.


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