The following is an excerpt from Practice Perspectives: Vault's Guide to Legal Practice Areas.
Antony L. Ryan is a partner in Cravath’s Litigation Department. He handles a wide variety of litigation matters, focusing on complex securities litigation, accountants’ liability, antitrust law and M&A litigation. Antony has extensive appellate experience, representing clients in appeals to the U.S. Courts of Appeals for the Second, Third, Ninth, Tenth, Eleventh and Federal Circuits. He has also appeared before numerous state appellate courts, including in California, Delaware, Georgia and New York. He maintains an active pro bono practice and is the firm’s pro bono partner. He is a member of the Board of Directors of Volunteers of Legal Service, for which he serves as President, and of The Legal Aid Society.
Antony received a B.A. summa cum laude from Yale University in 1992, where he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. He received a J.D. magna cum laude from Harvard University in 1995, where he was Supervising Editor of the Law Review, and oralist on the winning team in the Ames Moot Court Competition. Antony joined Cravath in 1996 and was elected a partner in 2002. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and four children.
Describe your practice area and what it entails.
Cravath does not have practice groups within the Litigation Department. Our clients hire us because we are well-rounded litigators and they trust us to handle every stage of their cases. We handle all phases of litigation—including the appeals—ourselves, which is increasingly unusual among firms. To that end, appellate litigation is an important part of my practice and is integrated into every step of the case strategy I develop for our clients. I think having a general litigation practice is the best path for those who may be interested in eventually specializing in appellate litigation—training as a great generalist lawyer gives you the skillset and relevant experience needed to handle appeals and the breadth of experience that will make you a better appellate litigator.
As the firm’s pro bono partner, I also spend time overseeing associates’ work on their cases, alongside the cases I am handling. We staff every pro bono matter the same way we do for paid client work, and I encourage our associates to become involved early and often.
What types of clients do you represent?
I represent a varied set of clients. I enjoy representing accounting firms, and I have argued Second Circuit appeals for both Deloitte and PwC in recent years. I was also part of the team that represented Qualcomm, a wireless technology company, in a major antitrust action brought by the Federal Trade Commission, which we won on appeal at the Ninth Circuit in 2020. Another recent client matter is the firm’s representation of Epic Games in its antitrust lawsuit against Apple. I was not involved in the trial, but am a part of the team working on the current appeal.
What types of cases/deals do you work on?
I would loosely group my practice into three areas, with the first being securities cases. Some current examples include representing a financial services company in its “meme” stocks litigation and working on a crypto asset securities litigation. Over the years, I’ve tended to work on securities matters involving complex financial and accounting issues, both in litigation and in response to government investigations. The second category is Delaware M&A litigation, one example of which is a case for Williams Companies in which our client is seeking a breakup fee for a failed merger. We tried the case by Zoom in May 2021, and are awaiting a decision. A Zoom trial was a new experience for me, which presented its own challenges, particularly in cross-examination, but went more smoothly than I expected. The third category, I would say, is antitrust litigation, as illustrated by the recent FTC v. Qualcomm case.
As I mentioned earlier, pro bono is a large part of my practice and also an integral part of the firm. One matter I am currently supervising is a Second Circuit appeal one of our associates is arguing in January, involving an important issue concerning Section 1983 liability for unjustified mental-health commitments.
How did you choose this practice area?
I became a litigator because I was interested in trying cases and, more generally, presenting persuasive narratives to judges and juries. When I interviewed at law firms as a student, I would ask, “What is the most interesting matter you are working on currently?” I was drawn in by the stories that litigators told and how passionate they were about their clients’ cases. When people talked about what they did as litigators, I could imagine myself doing that work and finding it rewarding.
What is a typical day like and/or what are some common tasks you perform?
There really is no typical day. Sometimes I am in a conference room all day taking a deposition, or there are times when I am at my desk editing a brief most of the day, or I have an appearance in court. Day-to-day life as a litigator is incredibly varied, and the more senior you get, the more multitasking is involved. One thing I am able to do with consistency, however, is interact with the associates on my team. They know they can drop by my office or give me a call whenever they want so that we can talk and bounce around ideas. Our daily interactions are also a way for me to provide consistent feedback and keep an eye on their development as lawyers. Because Cravath tends to staff our matters leanly, everyone on the team is able to contribute in a meaningful way and develop close working relationships.
What training, classes, experience, or skills development would you recommend to someone who wishes to enter your practice area?
I recommend that law students take procedural classes, which will teach them relevant skills to be a litigator: Federal Courts, Evidence, Choice of Law, Complex Civil Procedure, and similar courses. You can always learn substantive law later, but if you don’t have a strong grasp of procedure, you risk overlooking ways to present your case to the best advantage. I would also recommend moot court. I was fortunate enough to reach the final round in my own moot court experience and had the opportunity to argue before real judges—including the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. It definitely gives you a little bit of confidence in your career when you already have that sort of experience.
I also strongly recommend that associates take the opportunity to clerk, especially those who want to become litigators. Clerking is a unique experience that allows you to see the lawyers’ briefs and arguments through the judge’s eyes, helps shape your understanding of what is important to the decision-making process, and makes you a better advocate.
What do you like best about your practice area?
I love the challenge of litigation. Consistent with helping the client reach its goals, I want to see a case all the way through to a win. The appeal is an integral part of the strategy we develop for the case. Often I will have already worked on a case for years once it reaches the appellate stage—at which point, you write one or two briefs and get a single argument in front of the judges. At this stage, there is a premium on the ability to figure out how to identify the issues that matter the most.
One point that struck me when I was clerking is that lawyers sometimes have great trouble seeing the forest for the trees. My job as a litigator is to figure out how to help appellate judges pinpoint the issues that will affect the outcome. That means you have to be prepared to be ruthless and cut out ancillary points that are unlikely to move the needle. At most law firms, the partner handling the case will hand off appellate litigation to someone else at their firm or perhaps a specialty appellate firm. Cravath is unique because our clients trust us with their appeals, too; we are not just trial lawyers.
What misconceptions exist about your practice area?
I think one misconception is the idea that appellate litigation is an overly intellectualized practice area. Nothing could be farther from the truth. What you’re really trying to do as an appellate litigator is convince judges. You need the same powers of persuasion as a trial lawyer, but there is a greater premium on distilling your arguments to what you really need to explain your case. You have to get to the point quickly, in a common-sense way that resonates with an appeals court judge coming fresh to the case.
What kinds of experience can summer associates gain at this practice area at your firm?
Cravath’s summer program is unique in that we staff summer associates the same way as our full-time associates—they get to dive into cases and see firsthand how their work product is put to use. They aren’t just writing research memos. They are drafting sections of briefs and deposition outlines and similar tasks while receiving direct feedback from the partner whose team they’re on, as well as from more senior associates. They are part of the team working consistently on cases over the course of their summer experience, which means they get to see how their work product is put to use in the case. That’s a key part of learning to be an effective lawyer. Our summers get true hands-on experience, and by the end of their time here, they have a real sense of what working as a first-year associate is like if they decide to return to the firm.
What is your routine for preparing for oral arguments?
I start by writing out the affirmative presentation and answers to anticipated questions. Then, I ask my associates what they might ask if they were a judge and take all these difficult questions and draft more answers. My goal is to get the substance down—I don’t try to learn everything by heart, but rather, practice talking through the issues and breaking them down into modules.
By spending time saying these things out loud, I become comfortable in formulating ideas and expressing myself in a natural way while also being precise. I practice those answers in random sequence so that they sound like unforced language, instead of a script. If something isn’t working well, I rethink the approach.
After that process, I go into the argument with the written script and answers, although my goal is never to refer to it. By the end, my thinking is that if you are well prepared for argument, the words will already be in your head and should come naturally.