Attorney at Law Magazine Phoenix spoke with insurance defense attorney Ryan Williams (#318 in photo) of Liberty Mutual Insurance about his track and field/cross country experiences at Vanderbilt University for the Athletes in Law 2020 issue.
AALM: What lessons from track and field/cross country do you apply to your practice today?
RW: Although many people think running Track and Field and Cross Country is fundamentally an individual sport, you actually are scored as an entire team in competition. I learned very quickly that you can only succeed – or fail – together, and that in the end you are only as fast as your slowest runner.
AALM: Who was your favorite coach at any level and are some of the most important lessons he taught you?
RW: I still keep in contact with my high school coach from Brophy College Preparatory, Michael Keahon. He coached hundreds of athletes for over a quarter-century and always, without exception, put his athletes personal, emotional and academic well-being first no matter the cost.
AALM: Relate competing in a sport to competing as a lawyer.
RW: Preparation is key. By the time you toe the starting line or first enter the courtroom, the work you have put in beforehand will determine probably 80 to 90 percent of the outcome and then the rest is totally out of your control so just accept it and go forward with confidence.
AALM: How are you still involved in the sport or your alma mater today?
RW: I continue to run several days a week and finished my most recent marathon up in Maine last fall. It was great to serve as captain of both my high school and college teams and I still regularly keep in touch with most of the guys now scattered around the country.
AALM: Tell us about any major rivalries you/your team had?
RW: Vanderbilt men’s’ programs were only non-scholarship programs in the highly-competitive Southeastern Conference, so if we beat only one team at the end of the season it was a big win for us! We actually did it both during my freshman and senior seasons.
AALM: What did you do to calm your butterflies before taking the field, what do you do to calm butterflies before trial?
RW: I would make a conscious effort to pay close attention to my breathing before the start and throughout the race. It still works for me today because it forces me slow my mind down, be fully present in the moment and focus on the immediate challenge in front of me.
AALM: What qualities make a good teammate and what qualities make for a good law partner?
RW: Whether you are on a team or in a firm, you have to trust and rely on each other to accomplish your ultimate objective. This requires setting clear goals at the start, being flexible when unexpected obstacles inevitably arise and acknowledging everyone’s hard work no matter the final outcome.
AALM: Do you think attitude was a factor in winning in a sport as much as it is in practicing law?
RW: Absolutely. Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re right.
AALM: What is your favorite sports quote that could apply to your sport?
RW: The last stanza of ‘If’ by Rudyard Kipling:
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
AALM: Who is your favorite track and field sports heroes and who is your legal idol?
RW: We grew up in Scottsdale right next door to Steve Scott, one of the greatest American milers in history. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor has to be in my top three of favorite judges and it has been an honor to meet and speak with her many times over the years.
Favorite Track Hero: Steve Scott
Legal Hero: Justice Sandra Day O’Connor
Mantra: If it is to be, it’s up to me.