Leave it all on the field.
This well-known sports expression is the motto that Ryan Stygar ’20 has always espoused.
From his career as a firefighter for Cal Fire in the San Diego Unit to his three years at California Western, Stygar has never given less than 100 percent.
“I loved the fire service,” says Stygar. “But there came a point when I wanted a career with a broader horizon—something where my choices were limited only by my creativity. I felt that with a law degree, you could chart your own course with a level of freedom that other career paths couldn’t match.”
As a native San Diegan, California Western was an easy choice for Stygar. “There are lots of great law schools out there,” he says. “But there’s really only one frontrunner in producing practice-ready San Diego leaders—and that’s Cal Western.”
Stygar entered California Western unsure of what kind of lawyer he wanted to be, but he was sure of one thing—he knew he wanted to get involved quickly. He joined the Student Bar Association in his first trimester.
“This was one of the best choices I made because it got me involved in the school, and I built friendships with students outside my section,” says Stygar.
As soon as he was able, Stygar began interning.
He interned with Cal Western’s New Media Rights clinic, where he focused on intellectual property cases and transactional work. “It was a great experience,” says Stygar. “I learned so much from the attorneys there.”
Next, he interned for the Honorable Judge Kenneth Medel in the Superior Court. “That’s where all the lights came on for me,” says Stygar. “I loved the courtroom. What made that internship truly extraordinary was how Judge Medel took the time to “drill” me on trial skills. Sometimes it was a little intimidating, but I cannot think of a better training experience. That internship was a game-changer for me.”
From there, Stygar went on to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Criminal Division, where he was assigned to the Major Fraud Unit, getting hands-on experience handling evidence.
At the same time, Stygar decided to go for Law Review. He had missed the grade requirement during 1L, so he had to compete in the write-on competition.
“I was scared at the time because very few people who write-on actually win a seat on Law Review,” says Stygar. “I didn’t want to risk putting all that effort into the competition just to lose—but I also didn’t want to risk going through law school without at least trying to join law review.”
In typical style, he gave it his best shot and not only won the competition but had his law review paper selected for publication.
Winning the write-on competition sparked a competitive streak in Stygar. He signed up for the Gill Moot Court Trial Competition shortly after. Competing enabled Stygar’s passion for litigation to shine through, and he was thrilled to win that year.
“Not only was this a lot of fun,” he says. “But it was great practice and a big morale boost for a job interview later that trimester.”
The most rewarding experience for Stygar in law school was tutoring other students. He tutored three subjects in five trimesters, during which he got to work with nearly 200 students.
“The best part of tutoring is the relationships you build with the students,” says Stygar. “Tutoring is an incredible networking opportunity. It’s also a leadership role. Tutoring for five trimesters was a running master class on public speaking, organization, and management.”
As if interning, tutoring, and studying weren’t enough to fully occupy him in law school, Stygar found time to write and publish five books. That included Understanding Trial Objections, which teaches students and practitioners easy-to-use strategies for raising and responding to objections at trial, and a young readers' series, teaching kids about math, science, and technology.
“Honestly, I’m a little surprised to see five published books in my office,” says Stygar with characteristic modesty. “But the truth is that it is easy to find time for the things we love.”
Stygar singles out the California Western faculty, adjunct staff, and experiential classes as second to none, and feels that the combination of all these factors taught him hands-on litigation that he doubts most law schools could offer.
“By the time I finished Cal Western, I had delivered half a dozen opening and closing arguments,” says Stygar. “This is in addition to more direct and cross-examinations than I can count. That’s the secret ingredient to a Cal Western education—it is the place to be if you want to become a practice-ready attorney.”
Stygar graduated Magna Cum Laude this Spring. Today, he is focused on passing the bar. In the fall, he will start work for the San Diego District Attorney as a Graduate Law Clerk. He plans to become a Deputy District Attorney once he has passed the bar.
“I loved my experience at this school, and I feel particularly lucky to be part of the class of 2020,” says Stygar. “We have a fantastic community here.”
His advice to current students is not to be afraid of failure. “The best way to unlock your potential is to eliminate your fear of failing or being embarrassed and just go for it,” he says.
Ryan Stygar had one shot at law school, and there’s no doubt he gave it every ounce of energy he had. Looking back, he wouldn’t change a thing.
“I left it all on the field. Now I’m ready for whatever happens next.”