Whether in her legal career or community involvement, Jennifer Ryback has long been fueled by a familiar poem.
“Good, Better, Best; Never let it rest; Until your good is better; And your better is best.”
Ryback, who recently joined Carrington Coleman as partner after spending her entire legal career thus far at McGuire Craddock, is a past president of the Dallas Association of Young Lawyers and has used her roles in various organizations to do good for the community. She led McGuire Craddock’s litigation practice. At Carrington Coleman, she focuses on employment, litigation and disputes.
She’s received numerous recognitions for her work and volunteer services. Last year, she was one of 34 women nationwide selected for the National Association of Women’s Lawyers’ rising stars list, which recognizes early-to-mid-career attorneys who advance women in the industry or advocate for women.
Ryback recently spoke with The Texas Lawbook about what work she’s most proud of and why she made the move from McGuire Craddock to Carrington Coleman.
You were with McGuire Craddock 13 years — your entire legal career, right? What made you decide to leave?
Let me start by saying that I have the utmost respect for the lawyers, paralegals and staff who work at McGuire Craddock and count so many of them as friends. They took a chance on me out of law school, and I was fortunate to practice with McGuire Craddock for 13 years — yes, my entire legal career until recently! My decision to leave was mainly driven by a desire to have a larger platform to continue to build my practice and to also expand my employment law practice.
What was it about Carrington Coleman that attracted you?
I have had my eye on Carrington Coleman for many, many years. When I first began my participation in the Dallas Association of Young Lawyers, I served on committees with lawyers from firms all over town, and the lawyers from Carrington Coleman always stood out to me. They were prepared, they were smart, they did what they said they would, and they were well-liked. As I grew in my career, I made many friends at Carrington Coleman and always took notice of the things the firm was doing in the courtroom and beyond. When I decided it was time to make a law firm change, I started thinking about what I was looking for — a Dallas-based firm, with strong roots in our legal community, larger than my prior firm (yet not too large), with a great reputation in the bar and with excellent and well-established litigation and employment practice groups. It didn’t take me long to decide that Carrington Coleman was the only firm that really checked all of those boxes. Thankfully, I knew a good number of attorneys at Carrington Coleman already, but when I started interviewing with the firm I only became more certain that it was the best place for me to continue my practice. In the weeks since I have joined the firm, my decision has been validated many times. So far, the people have been incredible and so welcoming, and I am already seeing my practice flourish in ways that I wasn’t even expecting.
What trends are you seeing now in the areas of employment law and litigation?
The biggest trend I’m seeing in employment law is confusion surrounding noncompetes. In light of the Federal Trade Commission’s proposed rule on this issue, there has been a lot of coverage in the news suggesting that noncompetes are already universally unenforceable, so I see that a lot from the executives I represent. And I see the employers I represent sometimes trying to use a noncompete when other protections may suffice. I think we are going to see confusion in this area as a trend that will only continue to grow until we have more certainty about how the rule (if it goes into effect) will be applied nationwide.
As for litigation, the biggest trend I’m seeing is an increase in the number of cases actually going to trial. All of my evidence is anecdotal, but towards the end of 2023 and now into 2024, I have heard of more of my friends and colleagues actually going to trial than I have since pre-Covid — and maybe even before. I have several cases set for trial this year, and unlike many years I think many of those actually will be tried. It will be interesting to see the data in the years to come and whether my anecdotal evidence is substantiated by the number of cases actually being tried now as compared to the last few years.
You’ve said the work you do is inspired by the “Good, Better, Best” poem that your grandmother introduced to you. Would you tell us a little bit about your grandmother and how she incorporated that poem into your life?
I am a first-generation college graduate and also the first in my family to become a lawyer. My maternal grandmother, who I call “Memaw,” married and had children very young. And while she worked very hard raising four children and eventually also [working] outside the home, she never had an opportunity to have a career. She, among others in my family (including my paternal grandmother, who owned and operated a small business with my grandfather, while also raising five children), encouraged me to attend college and to become a lawyer. When I was younger, my Memaw always recited the “Good, Better, Best” poem to us grandchildren. It started as something she would say to us when we were together, seemingly out of the blue. And then it became something we would recite together, and sometimes my mom and I would recite together when I was facing a problem at school or trying to reach a goal. It goes — “Good, Better, Best; Never let it rest; Until your good is better; And your better is best.” The idea is that we can always be better and that we can and should keep trying to be better. It has kept me going on a number of occasions when I have had a challenge and it is often the mantra that plays in my head when I decide to take on a new challenge and have a moment of self-doubt.
You’ve used your roles in various organizations, legal and otherwise, to do good for the community. Just to name a few, your resume includes: Fundraising for housing with the Dallas Association of Young Lawyers, supporting the Alpha Phi Foundation which supports women’s heart health among other charities, and serving on the board for the Family Place Partners which helps end family violence. What does your community involvement consist of these days?
I still support the Alpha Phi Foundation and so many of the causes that have always been important to me, but given the season of life I am in most of my time spent on community involvement these days is volunteering with the elementary school where my oldest goes and where the other two will eventually. It is truly a unique school; it is the only arts-integration campus in our school district, and in addition to all of the other ways the teachers integrate the arts into what the kids are learning, the students also have a piano lab where they learn to play piano, the kindergartners and first graders write a musical (with help!) and perform it together, the entire school puts on a musical each semester (this semester it is Lion King and my son is thrilled to be a firefly!), and the students have theater, music, and art classes each week. I have been the Spirit Shop Coordinator for the past two years, which allows me to do something that involves a bit more creativity than my day job and also raises a good amount of money for the PTA each year. This year, I have added a larger volunteer role with the school’s large fundraising event and will be helping coordinate the band and other entertainment at the event. We are going with a western theme, and as a former country music singer I am thrilled to get to vet and select a 90s country band to play for us!
Of all the projects you’ve spearheaded, awards you’ve received and cases you’ve worked on, what work are you most proud of? (I can understand if it’s hard to pick just one, so please feel free to talk about a couple or a few.)
I’ll save a discussion of my legal accomplishments here and instead focus on a passion project for me. I have been so fortunate to have strong women in my family, like my grandmothers and my mother, who started working for Tarrant County in high school and worked her way up from a secretary to the Director of the Community Supervision Unit, setting records for the amount of child support collected (while also killing it as a mom and somehow never missing any school or other event that I remember). Growing up, I saw firsthand how difficult it was for my mom to balance the rigors of her career and the demands on her time at home. Now that I have three kids of my own and fully appreciate how difficult it is to practice law while raising a family, I have been committed to and am the most proud of the work I have done with the Dallas Women Lawyers Association to help keep women in the practice of law and to arm them with the tools to help them succeed, even when they are raising young children. Together with a group of all-star women lawyers (including my new law partner and idea generator for the project, Marisa O’Sullivan), I worked to design and implement The Pitch, which is a unique business development experience where female firm lawyers get to learn how to give a pitch and then practice giving a pitch in front of actual in-house lawyers with real-time feedback. We are planning our third year of The Pitch (plug for female lawyers to look for applications here in a few weeks) and we continue to hear feedback from firm lawyers about how impactful it is for them, and an added bonus we weren’t expecting is how excited the in-house lawyers (women and men alike) are to participate and help firm lawyers succeed in getting business. There have been a number of other projects we have worked on with DWLA, but The Pitch stands out to me as one I will always be proud of because I truly think that it will make a difference for women in our profession.
Not really related to your questions, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how thankful I am for my support system that allows me to practice law and also raise three children. I have the world’s best husband, who also has a demanding career but still always supports my work and passion projects and helps make sure our home runs smoothly on weeks when I am away more than I am home. And when Andy and I can’t handle what life is throwing our way, we can always count on my parents to help us get through it. Lolli & Pops have picked the kids up when we couldn’t, stayed home with a sick kid on a day when we both needed to be in the office (just today, actually!), watched the kids when we attended events, and the list goes on and on. I’m glad that I got over the angst of asking for help shortly after I had my first child — we were not meant to do it all by ourselves and I’m so thankful that I don’t have to.