Senior Corporate Counsel, H&R Block
Katie Ryan spent about six years as a litigator at H&R Block before moving to financial services and working as in-house counsel in 2014.
The move certainly came as a marked change at first.
After earning a law degree from Georgetown University, Ryan returned to the Kansas City area, where she grew up, to clerk for federal Judge John R. Gibson. She later worked as a litigator for the firm now known as Stinson for four years before moving to H&R Block, where she has been ever since.
“When I was in law school, law was always to me the courtroom ‘Law & Order’-type of stuff,” Ryan said with a laugh. “I didn’t understand all the other things lawyers do. Even when I got into the private-practice world, I tended toward the litigation side or arbitration.”
Though she had served as lead litigation counsel for several multimillion-dollar class-action and multidistrict-litigation cases at H&R Block, Ryan said her first year as in-house counsel came with some bumps and a fairly steep learning curve.
She’s now the lead counsel for an annual portfolio worth more than $400 million of consumer loans, prepaid cards and bank deposit and savings products. Ryan also was part of a group that was named one of six finalists selected from a group of more than 200 worldwide nominees for the 2019 Global Counsel Awards for excellence in Regulatory (Financial Services).
Though Ryan’s group didn’t win, traveling to New York did allow her to take part in one of her favorite activities. She and her husband have two children, ages 10 and almost 8, and Ryan said they love to travel. As a family, they’ve visited such places as Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and the Bahamas.
“Keeping up with my kids and their activities is pretty much my other full-time job,” Ryan said. “But we manage to have a lot of fun, too.”
Ryan says working as in-house counsel has been enjoyable as well. While she said she misses the clarity of winning cases as she did when she was a litigator, the collaborative nature of her in-house work has been welcome.
“In litigation, you get handed something after it’s already a problem,” she said. “But this, you get to be involved early and get to be a partner through the entire process, taking into account all the factors, like business, legal and all that. I’m surprised to have enjoyed that part of it as much as I have. I really enjoy being able to see a project through from start to finish.”
Ryan’s nominator mentioned her “curious, creative and deeply skilled” approach to her practice and noted that she’s a model for professionalism and in-house practice for her peers and junior attorneys. Though that approach may appear to be natural, Ryan said getting to that point took some work.
“It’s difficult when you’re moving from private practice to in-house to get out of the litigation mentality,” Ryan said. “When I moved, it took me a while to adjust and learn how to facilitate the good outcomes.”
So what guidance would Ryan offer to young attorneys about her area of the law?
“My advice would be to keep an open mind about the law and what kind of practice you want to do,” she said. “My happiest times are working with people I like and respect. You just have to be open to trying new things.”