To succeed in public defense, ‘compassion is everything’ says alumna
By: Madeleine Thomas
Ryan Ragland ‘15, felony trial counsel at the Hamilton County Public Defender’s Office, wanted to become a lawyer when she was in middle school. But her confidence in that career path started to waver when she was in high school, shortly after her father was sent to prison.
“I thought: Do I really want to be a part of this system that separates families? It was really hard for me to process,” Ragland said. “I got into a pre-law program, the Summer Work Experience in Law Program (SWEL) which provides internships for minority students to help them develop their interests in the law. Being in that program was really life-changing for me and reaffirmed that I did want to be a lawyer and go to law school.”
Throughout the five years Ragland eventually spent with SWEL, she interned with Duke Energy, BakerHostetler, the City of Cincinnati Prosecutor’s Office and District Court Judge Sandra S. Beckwith, as well as several other positions. She ultimately decided to enroll at the Moritz College of Law after she visited campus with her fellow SWEL colleagues in 2009. She knew right away that she had found the perfect fit.
“Everyone there had a good vibe, it was very collegial,” Ragland said. “It was competitive, but not cutthroat competitive like it is at a lot of other law schools. Everyone has that same general respect for one another and was able to work together really well, so I appreciated that a lot. I always wanted to go somewhere that was warm and that had a good environment.”
Although Ragland originally considered becoming a prosecutor after graduation, the last two years she has spent with the Hamilton County Public Defender’s Office have been more rewarding than she could have ever imagined.
“I wanted to help solve crime. That always sparks something in people, like they want to be the person that makes the world a better place. But when my dad went to prison, that kind of deterred me from that,” Ragland said. “I think one of the things that I love about being here is that I get to bring my personal perspective into how I work because I have experienced what some of my clients go through. It makes me have an appreciation and compassion for their experiences because I completely understand what that feels like.”
Ragland has seen an influx of Operating a Vehicle Impaired (OVI) incidences come across her desk as the heroin epidemic continues to grip Cincinnati. The nature of those cases can be particularly challenging because not all of her clients are ready or are willing to receive treatment for their addiction or drug abuse. Sometimes she has to meet her clients where they are in their process, part of realizing and accepting that they have to be willing to make those substantive types of life changes on their own. It’s a challenge, she adds, balancing the compassion she feels for her work each day with wearing her heart on her sleeve.
“Because I care so much, sometimes it’s hard for me to detach from my cases. Sometimes I have to take a step back and have someone else take a look at something to see if I am pursuing it the way that I should without all the emotion,” she said. “It’s always difficult when I have a client and have to make a decision about how to handle their case and I have to consider all these other circumstances, like their families, their jobs, all of those things.”
But when Ragland receives a phone call from a client’s loved one thanking her for her work, she couldn’t feel more fortunate for the opportunity to advocate for those who cannot speak for themselves.
“Compassion is everything. Our office is really focused on being client-centered. That’s one of the things that I love about our office because we have people here who really care about our cases and our clients,” Ragland said. “Figuring out what the best option is for our client is not a one-person job. There are a lot of people who come into play with that. I’m big on people, energy, those kinds of things, so it’s great when you get to work with people who feel the same way you do, who understand your perspective and what you’re trying to do.”