The GC and the GOP
INTERVIEW BY LAUREN PECK PHOTOGRAPHY BY PHILLIP PARKER
John L. Ryder throws himself into bankruptcy work, election law and
his role as general counsel to the Republican National Committee
Q: How did you first become interested in law?
A: Probably as a child watching Perry Mason. It
just looked like a lot of fun.
Q: What area of law did you think you wanted
to get into?
A: I’ve always liked to go to court. I think that is
great fun. My practice has focused on commercial
litigation and bankruptcy. Bankruptcy, I think,
involves all of the different skills that one has
to have as a lawyer. It involves the drafting of
documents, negotiating and litigating.
Q: How did you get to bankruptcy from
watching Perry Mason?
A: When I started practicing, the firm I was with
represented a bank and they sort of threw me
into that. The bankruptcy code changed radically
about the time I started practicing law, so it was a
fertile field for young lawyers at that time to learn
the new code and to develop a certain amount of
Q: What changes were going on?
A: In 1978, Congress adopted The Bankruptcy
Reform Act, which gave us our present
bankruptcy code. That replaced The Bankruptcy
Act of 1898, which had been in effect up until
that time, so it was a very thorough revision
to bankruptcy practice. I had an opportunity
to compete on an equal level with older
practitioners. Everybody was starting out learning
a brand-new bankruptcy code.
Q: You’ve done a lot of work with Shelby County.
A: I’ve been a part-time assistant county attorney
since 1978. My first project for the county
attorney’s office was to compile the private acts
affecting Shelby County. That was prior to the
adoption of the home rule charter for Shelby
County, so any ordinances had to be adopted as a
private act by the Tennessee General Assembly.
Over the years, I have managed to develop some
degree of experience and some expertise in the
area of election law. Beginning in 2009 or 2010,
I was assigned to represent the Shelby County
Election Commission as a part-time assistant.
I also represent the Memphis & Shelby County
Film and Television Commission.
Q: Doing what?
A: The film commission works with projects that
come into Memphis to shoot films, television
commercials or music videos and provides
assistance. There are contracts for the city services
that are entered into, there are location agreements
and then there are just odd projects that have to
be done, like getting access to a site at which the
film wants to shoot. This may involve dealing with
government entities that own or control that site, or
private entities that control or own the site.
Q: What are some films or music videos that
have come to Memphis?
A: We did The Firm, Great Balls of Fire, The
Rainmaker. John Grisham has been very good to
this city by featuring it in many of his novels.
Q: You do an interesting mix of things:
bankruptcy, commercial litigation, election
law. Was that intentional or has it just
developed over time?
A: It’s a mixture of both of those. You find areas
that you’re interested in and that you enjoy some
success in and you explore those. You get one
case in an area, and if you enjoy it and do well
with it, you tend to get other cases or accept
other cases. The process also works in reverse.
You may get a case and find out that it’s an area
of law that you don’t really want to practice in,
that it’s not suited to your personality or your
level of interest.
Q: Were there any areas like that for you?
A: Divorce practice.
Q: Is there anything you wish you had known as
a new attorney that you know now?
A: It’s kind of like learning to swim. Until you get
into the water, you can be told what it’s like, but
until you actually get in there, you’re not really
going to learn it. You have to learn by doing.
The one thing I would say is that what you
discover over the years is that civil procedure is
extremely important. It’s a rule-driven process.
My advice to law students would be pay attention.
Q: Was there anything you were surprised by
when you started practicing?
A: I actually found the real practice to be
much more interesting than the study of law.