Member Spotlight
Wednesday, November 15, 2017
by: Kyler Danielson

Section: Fall 2017

Maggie Symons Sweeney

For this special edition of the Member Spotlight, we are pleased to highlight Maggie Symons Sweeney, the Executive Director of WDTL. While not an official “member,” Maggie is integral to WDTL’s administration.

  Maggie has been active with WDTL for over fifteen years. Beginning as a member in 2001, she was hired as WDTL’s Executive Director in 2014. This year, she is the sole recipient of the 2017 DRI State or Local Defense Organization (“SLDO”) Executive Director award.

Third Generation Seattleite
Maggie is one of the few native Seattleites left in this city. She grew up on Capitol Hill and attended public schools throughout her childhood. Her family members are also native Seattleites. Both of her parents attended the University of Washington and her parents still live in her childhood home! During her childhood, Maggie’s mother was one of the few Republicans in the 43rd district. The “Nixon for President” sign was often stolen from their lawn.
In the 1980s, Maggie’s mother worked as the Executive Assistant to the City Attorney. Because of her mother’s job and connections, Maggie met several local municipal attorneys. This was the first time she considered a career in the legal profession.

Life as an Undergrad
Maggie left Seattle for the University of Pennsylvania after high school. She did not enjoy academia,  because it did not provide the finality that Maggie wanted in life. Instead, she felt like nothing was ever accomplished while in school. Due to her distaste in academia, Maggie planned to never attend graduate school.

When not in class, Maggie was a student-athlete with the Penn Quakers Rowing Team. Maggie represented Penn on the varsity team for all four years of undergrad. Although she left the varsity team behind when she graduated U. Penn., her passion for rowing continued into adulthood. For several years, she coached a local Seattle women’s rowing team, “Dick’s Chicks,” which was named after Dick Erickson, a prominent coach for the UW Huskies.

"Maggie and I were neighbors for a while, then co-workers, now friends.
In every arena, she approaches things with spirit, pragmatism, and persistence.
I wasn’t at all surprised when she was chosen as Executive Director of the Year; she’s a force of nature!” 

-- Molly Farr Kosten, Preg O’Donnell & Gillett
Path to a Legal Future
One of Maggie’s first jobs out of college was a political campaign, working for the Douglas Jewett for Mayor campaign against Norm Rice. After her campaign experience, she started working as a witness coordinator in Seattle Municipal Court. She loved her job. She had regular, direct communication with judges and witnesses all day, and she liked working with attorneys. Maggie decided: “If these people can practice law, I can too.” So, despite Maggie’s distaste for academia, she returned to school to study law.

Maggie took night classes to obtain her law degree from the University of Puget Sound (now Seattle U.). She continued to work as a witness coordinator during the day, maintaining her attorney connections and receiving an income to support her studies.

Maggie Sweeney: Criminal Prosecutor
Ultimately, Maggie wanted to work in the King County Prosecutor’s Office. Using her connections, she asked for a job opportunity and received an interview offer. One surprising fact about Maggie: her interview for a position with the Prosecutor’s Office resulted in a recommendation not to hire her. The interviewers believed Maggie would not get along with others. Unsurprisingly for those who know Maggie, she proved the interviewers wrong. Despite the initial interview criticism, she was offered an internship and was later promoted to a prosecutor position.

During her time as a criminal prosecutor, Maggie tried many cases and became comfortable in the courtroom. She loved working as a prosecutor.

During one of her cases, Maggie charged the defendant with a heinous offense – a sex crime against a child. Unfortunately, she did not have enough convincing evidence for trial. While in jail awaiting trial, the defendant asked for conjugal visits, but his wife wasn’t interested. So, he married his mistress. Maggie promptly charged him with polygamy and won. In trial, the defendant blamed his mistress. Maggie argued that the defendant was similar to Adam, in the Bible story Adam & Eve, because Adam took a bite of the apple and blamed Eve. On appeal, Maggie’s win was overturned because the court’s pattern jury instructions for polygamy were inconsistent with the law.

Civil Defense for the Win!
After several years at the prosecutor office, Maggie decided to transition to a position with the in-house legal team at Safeco. When switching to civil defense work, Maggie immediately joined WDTL. She continued working at Safeco when it became Liberty Mutual. Because she was raising her kids, she transitioned to part-time at a 60% billable hour requirement. Maggie believes the term “part-time trial attorney” is an oxymoron – there is no way to work as a trial attorney only part-time. But, her status as a part-time attorney made her feel more comfortable taking time for her kids. She never made excuses if she wanted to attend her child’s field trip or school activity.

At this time, Maggie transitioned to Preg O’Donnell for several years,  but returned to Liberty Mutual when she was offered a position as an attorney auditor. In that position, Maggie learned that she likes attorneys too much to question the quality of their work.

Maggie joined the WDTL Board of Trustees in 2008. At the time, Kristin Baldwin was serving WDTL as Executive Director. As a member of the Board, Maggie was actively engaged in the organization. When Kristin put in her notice, the Board recruited for a new Executive Director but couldn’t find the right fit. After a full round of interviews, they re-started the search. Maggie decided to apply after Michael Nicefaro encouraged her that it was the right decision.

Unlike other Executive Directors, Maggie does not have the typical management background. She is truly honored to receive the DRI Executive Director of the Year award. She learns from her community and her position every day. Maggie is also grateful for the ongoing mentoring and guidance provided by Kristin, who served commendably before Maggie took the reins.

To Maggie, WDTL symbolizes her belief that attorneys are good and collegial. WDTL is an example of attorneys putting others before themselves. She believes that associations are diminishing in this era, so it is even more important for us to work together and value teamwork.

Ruminations and Home Life
Maggie believes in extending grace to others. She often reminds herself that people are doing the best they can with the tools they are given.
If Maggie could thank anyone for where she is, she would thank her father and husband. Her father is a “glass is half full kinda guy.” He worked as a traveling salesman during her childhood, and he is still a traveling salesman today at 86 years old. She would also thank her husband Dave. “He thinks I’m the greatest thing since sliced bread,” Maggie explained. Maggie met her husband. David Sweeney, in the courthouse when Maggie was a witness coordinator. He honorably serves as a Lieutenant for the Seattle Police Department.  
Maggie and her husband, David Sweeney
Maggie and her husband have three children: Peter (5th Grade), Beck (7th Grade), and Mary Margaret (9th Grade). Her children are all students in the Seattle School District. They have attended WDTL conferences since they were young.

On raising kids while practicing law, Maggie explained how much she loves working. During her time practicing law, her trial work was constant. She wouldn’t take a shower without rehearsing arguments. Her kids grew up with a healthy understanding that Maggie has a life outside of her house, and that their parents both work. Now, she feels like anything is possible. “You get used to functioning at a high level.”

Maggie’s favorite hobby is socializing. She previously served as President of the PTA at Bryant Elementary and she volunteers as a coordinator for the children’s program at her church. She enjoys reading the New Yorker in her free time. WDTL regularly benefits from Maggie’s hard work and dedication. Thank you for your service, and congratulations, Maggie Sweeney!