2023 Discover FAD

Taking the leap: how David Ryan started his own law firm

A man with a beard and glasses and a floral button-up shirt with brown trousers is sitting in a chair in a garden. In the background there are trees and they are very bright green.
Photo by Bridge Ryan

David Ryan & Co Legal began in 2015 and is based in Picton, New South Wales. David Ryan, the principal of the firm, has over 20 years of experience in criminal law, having worked as a public servant for the NSW Legal Aid Commission, the Aboriginal Legal Service NSW, and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.

David has practised criminal law in NSW since 2002. He has been an Accredited Specialist in Criminal Law since 2012. He is also a member of the Law Society of New South Wales and the Criminal Lawyers Association of New South Wales.

His company was founded with the goal of providing high-quality legal services to people accused of criminal offences. He is passionate about helping people who have been wronged by the criminal justice system, and he is committed to providing his clients with the best possible representation.

I sat down with David to learn more about why he took the leap of leaving his steady career to pursue his dream of creating his own law firm.

A man is sitting in a cafe with a croissant on the table in front of him. He is wearing a blue and white plaid button-up shirt and a beige jacket and is wearing glasses and a beanie.
Photo by Bridge Ryan
Q: Can you tell me about David Ryan & Co Legal?

A: David Ryan & Co Legal is a law firm with a staff of 1 person: me. I am the principal lawyer and I do everything for the firm. We represent clients who are charged with criminal offences. Whether they want to plead not guilty and move forward with a trial or plead guilty and proceed to sentence — I do all areas of criminal defence solicitor work in both local and district courts.

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Photo by Bridge Ryan
Q: What were you doing before you started David Ryan & Co Legal?

A: Before I started David Ryan & Co Legal I was a criminal lawyer working for organisations such as Legal Aid (for seven years) and the Aboriginal Legal Service (ALS), representing specifically Aboriginal people, again in the criminal law justice system. They were both publicly funded organisations. Legal aid is funded by the state government, and the ALS is funded by the Commonwealth of Australia.

I was earning a salary, although it was a relatively low salary, and I had a boss and had to work a 40-hour week with little say in the work I actually did. However, it was very satisfying and I learnt a lot of skills and gained a lot of insight into how the criminal justice system works and how to be an effective lawyer.

A man is wearing cream pants and a navy shirt with a blue waistcoat and is standing in front of a sunset in the blue mountains where there are a lot of trees.
Photo by Vanessa Zahra
Q: So, why the change?

A: Well, after 15 years I felt like it was time for a change — I had a desire to be my own boss.

I wanted to be able to choose the work that I do and the places that I go to and generally just have more freedom and more control over how I spend my days.

And that’s what I can do because no one can tell me not to. I also thought I might be able to earn more money by working for myself rather than a government organisation. The funny thing is though, most of the work that I do is still funded by legal aid, however, I am more like a sub-contractor than an employee. They offer work and I can choose to accept or deny it. That’s the freedom that I have that I did not have before.

As it turns out, I probably work longer hours now than I did before, part of the reason being that there is no one else that can do it — the buck stops with me. That’s not to say it’s not satisfying — I work long hours but it is work that I choose to do. So yes, I work longer hours, but it is work that I want to be doing.

A man wearing a beanie is holding a dog in a garden and he is wearing a maroon jacket.
Photo by Bridge Ryan
Q: What advice would you give the David Ryan of 10 years ago?

A: Well, when I was considering going out on my own I was worried, naturally, because it was the unknown. I wasn’t sure if I would get enough work, I thought there was a chance it would backfire and I would end up poor. And I was poor and lonely for a couple of months — the first month I went out on my own I had nothing to do and would walk up to the local shops once or twice a day as something to do. But business did pick up the pace shortly after that. Like many things in life, you work out how to do it.

I would tell a younger David to take a chance and take the risk because things often work out for the best and you will never know until you try. But you have to do the research before you do. You can’t go in wearing a blindfold. You have to take your time and make sure you have a business plan. So there is a bit of homework and a bit of preparation, but ultimately when you have done that preparation you have to take the risk and let go of the apron strings and take a chance in life otherwise you won’t get anywhere. Life is about risk-taking.

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Photo by Vanessa Zahra

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Bridge Ryan is a 16-year-old aspiring journalist from the Southern Highlands in New South Wales. She has always been passionate about writing and telling stories, and she dreams of one day working for a major news outlet. After high school, Bridge plans to study journalism at university. She hopes to one day work as a foreign correspondent, travelling the world and reporting on important stories.