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December 01, 2009

December 2009: Alexander P. Ryan, Esq.

Young attorney with disability offers insight into working for a private firm, solving problems.

Each fall, law students everywhere begin the process of fall recruiting, where large law firms come to law schools and conduct interviews with students for summer associate positions. Alexander (Alex) Ryan, Esq. went through that process himself many years ago, at Wake Forest University School of Law. Alex, a 2001 Wake Law graduate, has spent the past eight-plus years in private practice. He currently practices employee benefits litigation (a field mostly covered by the federal employee benefits law known as ERISA) and enjoys the challenges and complexities of this work.

Alex sustained a spinal cord injury at birth and has since used a wheelchair as his primary means of mobility. He is currently a senior litigation associate with Groom Law Group in Washington, DC, a leading employee benefits specialty law firm with a national practice. Alex and his colleagues represent companies and associations with respect to their provision of pension and health benefits to employees. For example, Alex frequently works on litigation matters involving 401(k) plans. In addition to working at Groom, Alex is active with the American Bar Association. He was appointed to the prestigious House of Delegates in 2005, served as the Young Lawyers Division’s assistant diversity director from 2006-2007, and is currently the liaison between the ABA YLD and the Commission on Mental and Physical Disability Law.

Before law school, Alex worked in print journalism and radio broadcasting. He sees many similarities in his previous and current professions, as both are deadline-driven fields that emphasize precision and detail; and Alex thrives under pressure. “I’m drawn to it,” he said. “Working under pressure keeps my energy level up and keeps me engaged.” At the same time, the busy schedule of a law firm associate can present challenges, such as balancing professional and personal demands. Alex enjoys his work, and he is also committed to devoting time to his family and friends and outside activities that he enjoys. For Alex, working longer hours during the week generally means that he has more personal time on the weekends.

There are certain accommodations in Alex's workplace that make it easier for him to get around and complete his work. For example, most of the doors in and out of his office building and law firm can be opened with automatic buttons. Alex also uses a desk that can be quickly height–adjusted with the push of a button. Alex has found his employers and the legal profession in general very accommodating of his disability, and he has used his life experiences in solving the issues he works on each day. “For me, handling my disability has led to an instinctual inclination to solve any challenge that may come my way— in both my personal and professional life,” Alex stated. “I really enjoy taking a complex employee benefits case, tackling it head-on, and finding creative ways for my client to succeed.”