Alexander P. Ryan
Alex Ryan’s role in assisting his clients resembles that of a security blanket. As an attorney for Groom Law Group in Washington, D.C., he helps protect the operation of the employee benefits systems in which his clients function. His work involves sorting out the details of complex pension plans and healthcare packages for his clients—generally, employers that provide these benefit plans to their employees, and companies that provide services with respect to the plans. Ryan enjoys the work—and the assistance it provides to his clients. “I really enjoy taking a complex employee benefits case, tackling it head-on, and finding creative ways for my client to succeed,” he shares.
Alexander P. Ryan
Perhaps this is fitting because when he was a child, extra attention was required to take care of him. Born with a spinal cord injury, Ryan was never able to walk on his own. But, with some creativity, he needs only minor adjustments to perform his work—the wheelchair he uses to get around, doors that automatically open with the push of a button, a desk with push-button height adjustment, and a few other small modifications.
“A few minor adjustments” is how Ryan views his adaptation to the world. For example, being unable to walk wasn’t something that he had to overcome because “it was always a part of [his life].”
“I had a fairly normal childhood,” he reflects. Coping with his situation “was how I lived from the very beginning. I went outside and played, threw the ball around, and hung out in the park. I also spent a lot of time reading and listening to music.”
His youthful interest in words and music led him to the radio broadcast booth. “Before college, I wanted to do journalism,” he recalls. A native of Rochester, New York, he attended St. John Fisher College in his hometown. “I gravitated to radio and print. I kept both of those as possibilities at school and afterwards, and I had exposure to both fields. I was a DJ, and also did programming and production [work].”
During this time, he also worked for the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, a daily newspaper, fulfilling news-gathering tasks and editing articles for the sports department. “I liked the pace of it,” he explains regarding his interest in journalism. “I enjoyed the [focus on] getting the words as right as possible, the attention to detail. [What] radio and print had in common [was] that I was presenting something, and bringing my own personality to an audience.”
This communication component—an aspect that journalism shares with the legal profession—ultimately led him to consider the practice of law. “I had been out of school a couple of years,” he recollects when describing his decision to go to law school, “and had been thinking that I could take my skills and apply them to law—to use my writing and speaking abilities to tell a story in a precise way, and allow my own personality to come through.”
After graduating from law school at Wake Forest, he joined a small law firm. “I was doing civil and criminal litigation, and this eventually led to joining a larger law firm, where I had opportunities to work on more complex cases and got exposure to a wide variety of civil and business litigation,” he shares.
After a few years working in North Carolina, Ryan wanted to focus his law practice and to be in a bigger metropolitan area. His move to Washington, D.C., in 2006 provided both. He found an opportunity at Groom Law Group to work in the employee benefits field. “I’ve been here for more than three years,” he notes, “and it has proved to be a good fit.”
At Groom, Ryan’s practice primarily deals with the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, federal legislation passed in 1974 that governs much of the operation of voluntarily established benefit plans in private industry. His role is to advise clients that sponsor, or provide services with respect to, such plans on their administration and governance. Another aspect of his work involves the financial and investment concerns related to these plans. As a member of Groom’s litigation practice group, Ryan often is involved in legal disputes concerning employee benefit plans. Ryan’s work, and Groom’s practice generally, involves tight deadlines and attention to complex details—conditions under which Ryan thrives.
“What I enjoyed most about the field of journalism was the extent to which one is always working on deadline [and] the process involved in creating a spoken or written product under pressure,” Ryan asserts. “Now, I find that I enjoy being a lawyer for the same reasons that I enjoyed the field of journalism.”
In addition to working at Groom, Ryan is active with the American Bar Association (ABA). He was appointed to the ABA’s House of Delegates in 2005, which makes policy for the organization; served as the Young Lawyers Division’s (YLD) assistant diversity director from 2006 – 2007; and currently functions as the liaison between the ABA, YLD, and the Commission on Mental and Physical Disability Law.
Ryan credits many people with helping him to achieve his success. “I have certainly benefi ted from having a very supportive family and from being around a lot of great, encouraging, able, [and] challenging professionals,” he offers, “and that has pushed me on to a certain degree of success. At each step of my career, there have been people from whom I have learned, and that has been extremely valuable for me.”
These individuals included his teachers and professors in high school, college, and law school, as well as more experienced attorneys at different stages of his career. “I credit many different people with contributing to my success,” he adds.
Like many lawyers, Ryan works long hours. But the demands of his career provide challenges that stimulate his energy and creativity. He makes sure to take time to enjoy the cultural life of the D.C. area with his wife. Describing one recent outing, he shares that “we attended two different Shakespeare productions in the same day—a matinee and an evening performance. In between, we enjoyed dinner at one of our favorite Spanish tapas restaurants, and we had an opportunity to walk around the District a bit.”
“I’m happy I decided to go to law school,” he concludes. “The learning process in being a lawyer was invaluable, and the approach to thinking and problem-solving has been a huge gain. I encourage others to look at it, if even just for the mental process that’s involved.” DB
Tom Calarco is a freelance writer and historian of the Underground Railroad. He lives in Orlando, Fla.
From the May/June 2010 issue of Diversity & The Bar®