Q&A With Daniel Ryan III
Daniel Ryan III of O’Brien & Ryan in Plymouth Meeting on working with surgeons, letting clients be teachers, and still not being over that Georgetown-Villanova game
Published in 2010 Pennsylvania Super Lawyers magazine
on May 20, 2010
Updated on May 21, 2010
When did you decide to become a lawyer?
I had a tremendous influence and mentor in my life, a teacher named David Horn who when I was in 9th grade conscripted me into the debating club. It was freshman year of high school and he pulled me out of my home room and sent me off to the debating club, and I’ve been debating in one way or the other ever since.
What was it about debate that you enjoyed?
As I remember I didn’t enjoy it every week, but it was a very good exercise and wonderful preparation for the career I ended up in. I did both debate and extemporaneous speech, and interestingly have continued to run into some of the folks I debated against who practice in Philadelphia right now, some of those debaters from back in the late ‘60s/early ‘70s have continued to make their mark on the Philadelphia legal scene.
No kidding. I wonder if some of them are on our Super Lawyers list?
They are. In fact one of them was featured on your cover a few years ago, Jerry McHugh, who’s a wonderful lawyer at Raynes McCarty. And there’s Chris Tretta [of Yost & Tretta] and a whole host of others.
You go by Daniel Ryan III. Were I and II lawyers?
No, actually, my grandfather was a bricklayer, and my father was an electrical engineer, and my son is in a private equity firm, and my grandson is 6 six months old, so we Daniel Ryans have spanned the centuries.
You went to Georgetown for undergrad and Villanova for law school. Do you have an allegiance when they play each other in basketball?
I think you always have to go with the undergraduate school.
So does that 1985 game still sting?
Oh my Lord, don’t start reminding me of that. (laughs) I love Georgetown, three of my kids went there, and let’s just say that Villanova is my second favorite team.
You work with a lot of surgeons, defending them in medical malpractice cases. How are they as clients?
Surgeons can be as varied as the procedures they perform. I think they’re wonderful clients. Obviously with their background and the nature of their practice they have to have tremendous confidence and courage and usually very strong personalities so it’s interesting dealing with them in a litigation setting when they’re in a venue that is foreign to them, when they have to go into a courtroom and explain to a jury what the basis for their surgery was or the nuances of their technique, things of that nature. They tend to be natural teachers, but the challenge is to make sure they get their point across to a lay jury without elements of defensiveness or that sort of confidence that can border on arrogance if it’s not funneled in the correct way.
That has to be tricky work, doing the funneling.
It is. But I find that just the vast majority of surgeons are motivated by the patient’s best interests and have a great sense of compassion about them, and if I can make that element of their personality, that compassion, come through to the jury, as a litigator, as someone who’s asked to be persuasive on their behalf, I’ll have done my job.
How do you handle the dynamic where when you walk into the courtroom the hearts of the jurors may be with the injured parties?
You have the element of sympathy to be sure, usually, whether it’s the surviving family or an injured party, but I find if you’re frank about that with the jury, if you really are direct with them about that, most juries can get past that. What you have to do is focus the jury on the facts of the case, on the science that’s relevant to the defense, and show that you’ve really done your job. If you can get your client up there and turn them into a teacher, not in a way that is patronizing, but explains things to the jury, and lets the jury know how human that party is, you’ll have a good shot. One of the juries said to me after a case that they noticed when I asked my doctor to stand up out of the witness box, with the court’s permission of course, to offer some explanation on some kind of medical exhibit, they could see his knees shaking, and that element of humanity and the nervousness that anyone would feel went a long way toward humanizing and personalizing the client, which is again an important piece of the persuasion.
What is one thing that you tell law students or young lawyers that they can’t read in books?
You have to develop confidence. You have to develop your client’s confidence in you. And that is really born only of preparation and experience.