Swain Wood, who served as the first assistant attorney general of North Carolina, supervising the civil, criminal, multistate and appellate legal work of the Department of Justice under Josh Stein since 2017, recently rejoined Morningstar Law Group as a partner.
At Morningstar, Wood will lead a new, national practice focused on helping clients navigate the complex legal and political challenges associated with government investigations, negotiation, and litigation, including matters involving state attorneys general and other government entities.
While in the attorney general’s office, Wood was involved in many high profile issues, including the multi-billion-dollar national opioid settlements with multiple Fortune 50 companies. Wood also directed North Carolina’s investigation and litigation against e-cigarette make Juul for marketing to children and negotiated the state’s coal ash clean-up agreement with Duke Energy.
In the following Q&A, Wood chats with North Carolina Lawyers Weekly his experience as First Attorney General, his involvement in the multi-billion-dollar national opioid settlements, and the new national practice at Morningstar Law group focused on government investigations, negotiation.
1. What have you learned through your experience as First Attorney General that you’re excited to integrate into your new position?
One of the greatest things I learned was the sheer enjoyment of being part of a really high-functioning team of talented and hard-working people who trust each other and are doing critically important work. Leading the legal operations of a 300+ lawyer department in North Carolina’s Attorney General’s Office and working closely with Attorneys General and their senior staffs in other states on multi-state investigations and litigation required an enormous amount of trust going in all directions. When you’re with the right people and the team is working well, as it did for me at NC DOJ, it is truly a special experience. I have no doubt that being back with my colleagues and friends at Morningstar will be every bit as enjoyable and rewarding.
2. What are some of your goals regarding leading the new national practice focused on government investigations, negotiation, and litigation at Morningstar Law Group?
As a state, North Carolina has become a major player on the national scene in so many areas, ranging from job creation to new technologies to politics to basketball. The talent that exists in our legal community – in private practice, government, corporate in-house, and non-profits — is as strong as anywhere in the country. So even while we continue to serve our local communities, there are tremendous opportunities to make use of our resources to help clients both here and around the country tackle challenges that have national impact. Many of those challenging issues arise at the point where law, business, public policy, and politics intersect, and often come in the form of government investigations and litigation involving state attorneys general and, increasingly, local governments. My main goal as we launch this new practice group is to help guide clients to successful resolutions of those complex, multi-dimensional challenges.
3. Throughout your career, you have been involved in many high-profile cases, including the multi-billion-dollar national opioid settlements with multiple Fortune 50 companies in what the New York Times referred to as, “one of the most complicated and gargantuan legal battles in American history.” Do you agree with that description? Why or why not?
Without a doubt, the battles and teamwork that led to the national opioid settlements were “complicated and gargantuan,” and the result was certainly historic in the relief it will provide to help fight the addiction crisis for the next 17 years. Figuring out how to bring together nearly all US states, D.C., and the territories — each with its own leadership and goals – was a major challenge. When you add the thousands of counties and cities that were also involved, it became exponentially more complex. Standing alone, several of the deals with individual companies would have been among the biggest multistate settlements in US history. By dealing with multiple major industry players nearly simultaneously, where they often spurred each other into action and compromise, we were able to construct a combined series of deals that is second in size only to the national tobacco settlement in the 1990s.
4. What type of litigation are you post passionate about, and how do you hope to cultivate that passion in your new role at Morningstar?
I’m most passionate about litigation that has no easy answers and requires you to think strategically at every moment to get to a successful conclusion. With those kinds of cases, successful conclusions inevitably require not just hard-nosed litigation, but also careful negotiation and diplomacy, and usually some degree of compromise, to reach an end result that accomplishes the client’s strategic goals.
5. As an avid runner and hiker, what is your go-to trail/place to escape to?
I started running seriously during the pandemic on the greenways and bike paths of Raleigh. There’s lots of variety, history, and beauty on those trails — often in places you don’t expect it. For hiking, the trails in Big Sur overlooking the Pacific Ocean are extraordinary (although they’ve suffered in recent years from wildfires). But honestly, the mountains of North Carolina are as beautiful a place to hike as anywhere I’ve ever been.