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Meet Ryan Penner

Meet Ryan Penner

SHJ is proud to welcome our largest-ever class of summer associates to the firm.

Ryan Penner is a 2L at the University of Texas School of Law. Previously, he worked as a summer associate at Vinson & Elkins. Ryan entered the legal field after seven years as a high school teacher in Houston, where he taught geometry, statistics, and debate. He holds a B.A. in Philosophy from the University of Texas at Austin.

When did you decide to pivot from teaching to law?

As a teacher, I was heavily involved in my union. There was one instance where teachers had been asked to spend our daily planning time performing other duties, which I suspected was probably not legal; I ended up researching the law myself and helped usher in a policy change. That was definitely the catalyzing moment for me. Afterward, one of my teaching colleagues proposed we take the LSAT together to see what would happen. I agreed, and once I started getting into the weeds with LSAT prep I knew law was the right path for me. I decided that if I got into a good law school, I would commit to the career change.

Has your teaching experience strengthened your lawyering abilities?

The skills I cultivated as a teacher are incredibly useful in this profession. As a teacher, I found that the more prepared I was to deliver a lesson, the easier it was for me to sell my students on what I was teaching. Likewise, a lawyer who’s presenting to a jury needs to know the argument they’re making inside and out. It’s not enough to just enter a room and expect everyone to believe you; you need to establish credibility first. In the legal field, there’s sometimes a built-in suspicion that the arguments you’re making aren’t genuine, that you’re simply exploiting a loophole to benefit your client. But if you’re authentic and take the time to develop relationships with your audience, you can overcome that. My experience with students was that they rarely gave me much trouble after I spent meaningful time getting to know them—and letting them get to know me—one on one.

How did you connect with SHJ?

I knew I wanted to work at a small litigation firm this summer, so SHJ made my short list right away. My first Zoom interview with Adam Dinnell convinced me that it would be a good fit. From the start, he was candid and upfront about the how the firm does things and its vision for the future, which made it easy for me to talk about my goals in return. When we got to talking about the level of responsibility young lawyers take on at SHJ, Adam told me that everyone at the firm is intimately involved at every level of the litigation process. And that was exactly what I wanted to hear.

What is your day-to-day like? How are you finding the work and the culture?

I have lots of contact with both partners and associates. That said, I don’t necessarily see a difference between the two—when I’m talking to a lawyer, I’m talking to a lawyer. I can go up to anyone, regardless of title, and talk about the assignment I’m working on at that moment, their general ideas about the practice of law, or really anything. Everyone here is extremely helpful and eager to assign me good, interesting work.

I’m currently working on a motion for summary judgment, which is a very cool opportunity for someone who hasn’t even graduated from law school yet. It’s amazing to think that I’m writing a few pages that might save a client a few million dollars. I never thought I’d be doing something like this so early on.