LEADERSHIP IN LAW 2019: Justin E. Swanson

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Justin Swanson acknowledges he’s known as “the hemp guy” for his specialized focus on advocating for the legalization and production of hemp. In that capacity, he’s helping re-pioneer a crop that holds intriguing promise and prospects while also battling some of the misconceptions around the budding industry. He’s also actively given his talents to pro bono work and is a member of the board of Horizon House, which serves central Indiana’s homeless population. 

swanson-lil2019-2colWhat have you learned watching hemp slowly become a legal commodity?

I have learned that there is currently more misinformation than information surrounding the re-emerging hemp economy in Indiana and the rest of the country. Hemp has been misaligned at the state and federal level with controlled substances like heroin for almost a century. This misclassification has destroyed any research or investments into the hemp market up until the passage of the 2014 Farm Bill. I have also learned that the linchpin to this entire economy is our farmers. We need to ensure they have accurate information regarding best practices for growing hemp, how the market values different varieties of hemp and how to contractually protect themselves. Education continues to be crucial in developing this industry once again. 

What’s been the most rewarding aspect of your practice?

I have really enjoyed witnessing the potential impact commercial hemp will have on the next generation of agriculture leaders in Indiana. I have had countless conversations with fourth-, fifth- and sixth-generation family farming operations where the youngest family member, who typically just graduated from college, is leading the conversation on hemp. The next generation of agricultural leaders is clearly eager to take ownership of this new agricultural crop and provide an opportunity for their family farm to diversify its income. 

What’s something about you not many people know?

I was asked to be drawn by a local artist when I was in middle school. The artist turned out to be nationally recognized illustrator Claire Ewart for a book titled, “Torch in the Darkness: The Tale of a Boy Artist in the Renaissance” by Alan Garinger. I ended up being used for the main character in the book.

Why are you so passionate about your work with Horizon House? 

My dad has been a public defender in Fort Wayne for the past 46 years. I have vivid memories of watching him in the courtroom and working with prosecutors on behalf of his clients. He taught me at a young age through his actions that everyone starts on different bases in life and everyone deserves to be treated with respect. This perspective on life attracted me to Horizon House, as they are the only organization in Indianapolis that offers ongoing critical services to our homeless neighbors with the ultimate goal of empowering them to become self-sufficient and find permanent housing.

Who is someone who inspired or mentored you, and what did you learn from them?

My parents have had the biggest impact on my life. I wouldn’t be in the position I am in today without their love, support and sacrifices. They taught me invaluable life lessons about hard work, relationships and the need to treat everyone with respect. 

What do you most enjoy doing when you’re not in the office?

I love to spend time with my growing family, hang out with friends, travel, read and cook. My favorite way to spend time outside of the office right now is playing with my 9-month-old son, Archer.

What motivated you to pursue a legal career?

I grew up watching my dad practice law in Fort Wayne. I have distinct memories of him counseling his clients, negotiating with other attorneys and advocating for his clients during jury trials. The compassion he showed and continues to show for his clients left a permanent mark on me and inspired me to pursue a legal career. 

If you could change one law, what would that be?

I would ensure that Indiana follows Wyoming’s lead on extending super-negotiability to digital consumer assets, digital securities and virtual currencies. Wyoming has enacted around 13 pieces of legislation designed to provide a comprehensive, welcoming legal framework for companies exploring innovative ways to leverage blockchain technology to provide decentralized solutions to issues created by centralized operations. Decentralization will impact nearly every existing industry, including government, and will spur innovative solutions to longstanding problems. Indiana ought to pass laws that attract the next generation of technological leaders. 

What’s your advice to a younger person who’s thinking about a legal career?

Law school is certainly a huge investment, but the best investment you can make in life is in yourself. I encourage those thinking of pursuing a legal career to explore the diverse set of career options outside of just practicing law. I recommend those who pursue a legal career to read “Getting to Maybe: How to Excel on Law School Exams” by Richard Fischl and Jeremy Paul before their first year of law school.• 

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