Farley earned his undergraduate degree from Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service in 1995. While living in Washington, D.C., he met his future wife, Joyce Brewer, whom he married in the summer of 1998 after graduating from Emory University School of Law in Atlanta. The couple moved to New York that September so that Farley could begin his job as a litigation associate at Mayer Brown, the international law firm with roots in Chicago then called Mayer, Brown & Platt. He had worked there as a summer associate in 1997.
Dennis Orr, a former Mayer Brown partner now with Morrison & Foerster, says Farley was aiming high from the start. "The day I met him was at a cocktail party for returning summer associates," Orr says. "He was absolutely convinced he was going to be a big rainmaker and was going to have a lot of clients." Adds Orr: "You don't hear that kind of chatter from most third-year law students."
Richard Spehr, a Mayer Brown partner who oversaw Farley's work and now serves as head of the 1,523-lawyer firm's New York office, says he had the skills to back up the chatter: "He was tenacious, an aggressive litigator who was also a relentless worker and one of our hardest-working lawyers."
As part of his push to make a name for himself, Farley cultivated relationships with Orr, Spehr and other Mayer Brown litigators he believed could help him gain trial experience. Says Spehr: "We worked together on many matters that were pretty high level, complex litigation. He really thrived in that environment." Most of those mattersincluding a major derivatives case on behalf of client Lehman Brothersinvolved the financial services industry, Spehr says.
In addition to throwing himself into billable work, Farley displayed an idealistic bent by dedicating himself to a pair of pro bono cases. In one, he was part of a Mayer Brown team honored in 2007 by the National Legal Aid & Defender Association for its work on behalf of Guantánamo Bay detainees.
Also notable was his work as a sixth-year associate with Diana and senior counsel Philip Lacovarabest known for serving as counsel to Watergate special prosecutors Archibald Cox and Leon Jaworskirepresenting Iranian judge and 2003 Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi in her bid to overcome a trade embargo against Iran so that she could publish her memoir in the United States.
Diana says Farley's involvement in the Ebadi case was a reflection of how highly his Mayer Brown superiors thought of him: "Philip wanted Ryan on the team. He knew that we'd need a lot of brainpower."
A lawsuit filed in 2004 by the Mayer Brown team on Ebadi's behalf prompted the U.S. Department of the Treasury to lift its ban on the publication of works by Iranian authors, which allowed Ebadi and other Iranian authors to release books in the United States. "For his efforts in this important achievement, Mr. Farley is held in great esteem by myself and a great many Iranians," Ebadi told The Am Law Daily in an email upon learning of his death.
By immersing himself in the two assignments, Spehr says, Farley showed that he was interested in more than simply advancing his career: "He was an aggressive guy, but had a very powerfully compassionate side that was reflected in a lot of the pro bono work that he did."
An associate left behind
Even Farley's friends acknowledge, though, that his aggressive side was hard to ignore. "He had a vision and ambition, and sometimes he would trample people," says Orr, adding that Farley could be particularly hard on younger associates. "Sometimes Ryan was his own worst enemy."
Rough edges aside, former colleagues say Farley's legal work was excellent, that clients asked specifically for him to be assigned to their matters, and that he had a keen ability to think several steps ahead to see where a case needed to go. "Ryan was an old-time litigator in that he didn't specialize but became an expert in whatever issues he confronted," Diana says. "He would learn every fact and legal issue. He wanted to be the most knowledgeable guy in the room."
Things began to sour for Farley, however, in fall 2006 as he began his eighth year at Mayer Brown. Orr defected to Morrison & Foerster with three other partners and two associates. Farley did not make the move. Asked why, Orr says it was a combination of Farley continuing to sense opportunity at Mayer Brown and personality clashes between him and some of those who jumped to Morrison & Foerster.