A 2000 graduate of Nevada High School has brought his law degree back home and is enjoying being part of the community in which he was raised.
Ryan Haaland, 31, works as an attorney in Nevada and also as a part-time judicial magistrate for Story County. Haaland returned to Nevada in 2011 when an opportunity came about to work in the office of local attorney Kathy Skinner.
"I really enjoy the small-town environment and everything that comes along with it. I love being able to look out my office window during the summertime and see a crew out mowing hay. You don’t get that view in Des Moines," he said.
Haaland currently lives in Ames, and said the Ames-Nevada area is filled with members of his family. His mother, Teresa, lives in Nevada. His grandfather, Irv, lives just down the alley from his mom. His uncle and aunt, Dan and Mel, live in Nevada. He has another aunt, Maggie, who lives in Ames and an aunt and uncle, Cindy and Dave, who live between Slater and Madrid. His brother and his wife, who have two small children, live in Polk City.
At Nevada High School, Haaland was active in soccer, basketball, football and cross country. Back then, he wasn’t really sure what he wanted to do with his life.
Becoming an attorney was something he thought he might enjoy. But he had a wide range of career options he was considering, from teaching to horticulture/turf management.
He attended more than one undergraduate university, and eventually in 2005, he received a B.A. degree in philosophy from Iowa State University. He attended graduate school for philosophy at the University of Houston.
It was during his time in Texas when Haaland said he realized that a career in academia was not in the cards. He said he felt drawn to pursue a law degree. So he enrolled at the University of Iowa College of Law in 2007 and graduated in 2010. "Law school was sort of my fallback position," he said.
Law school, Haaland said, was very competitive, and the extent of that competiveness did surprise him a bit. "I knew that it was a competitive environment, but it was even more so than I’d expected. The grading system was based on a mandatory curve that essentially slotted people into grading positions, meaning in most classes, only so many people could get an A…even if everyone in the class technically did A quality work."
Luckily, Haaland found that there was a lot of collaboration among classmates. "You could always count on your classmates to help each other out when needed," he said.
Haaland felt confident in his ability to work as an attorney, but he did question whether he would be able to find gainful employment as one. "The market took a downturn right around the time I was graduating from law school." Haaland said the legal field has been hit pretty hard in terms of jobs available.
His first job in law was during the summer of his second year of law school when he worked with Bradshaw, Proctor, Fowler & Fairgrave in Des Moines. "I worked for them as a summer associate, helping out primarily in their litigation practice group."
His first post-graduation job was at Stowers Law Firm in West Des Moines, a primarily criminal defense firm, where Haaland’s role was largely legal writing and research.
He started looking for job openings in Story County, he said, "because I wanted to get back to the Ames/Nevada area. I enjoyed my time in Des Moines, but I’ve mostly preferred a slightly slower-paced and less crowded environment."
Skinner’s opening was what Haaland describes as a "perfect fit" for him in terms of work, location and timing.
Haaland has a general practice in Nevada, where he does a little bit of everything. He does a lot of family law work, which is primarily divorces, custody and child support matters. He also does a large amount of transactional work, involving everything from home/farm sales; and drafting title opinions, residential and/or farm leases and contracts. "I also do a lot of work in the areas of will drafting, estate planning and administration of estates… and a fair amount of civil litigation, representing both corporate clients and individuals."
When Skinner decided she wasn’t going to continue a third term as magistrate in Story County, Haaland decided he would apply for the position. "In working closely with her, I quickly realized how rewarding, interesting and challenging that sort of work was," he said.
He applied and went through the interview process this past May, and was selected by the nominating committee. His first four-year term started this past August.
The most interesting thing about his work as a judge, Haaland said, is that every day is unique. He hears cases involving small claims and simple misdemeanors, as well as being involved in mental health issues and performing marriages. "I sit in the courthouse at Ames City Hall… so, I’m splitting my time between my judicial position in Ames and my regular law practice here in Nevada."
As an attorney, Haaland said his greatest challenge is remaining proficient in all areas of the law. "The law is always changing and you never know all there is to know," he said. So he spends a lot of time keeping himself updated on each of the areas of the law, so he can provide clients with effective legal counsel, no matter what their legal issue might be.
His primary goal in Nevada, he said, is to "continue to build my practice. I would like to have a practice where community members know they can come to me and trust that no matter what their legal issue might be, they will be getting an attorney who attempts to understand their issue on a personal level and also provide them with highly effective legal advice."
In the two years that he’s been back in Nevada, Haaland said everyone has been welcoming and supportive, and he feels lucky to have Skinner as a mentor and colleague. "I couldn’t have handpicked a better situation, and I definitely wouldn’t be where I am if not for her." He also appreciates his fellow attorneys in Nevada, who he said have been unbelievably helpful any time he’s sought their advice. Also, the judges in the area have been very gracious with their time in helping him with his transition to magistrate.
So what advice does he have for those high school students at Nevada who are where he was 13 or so years ago and might be considering a law career? "My general advice, which I would give to anyone regardless of what career they want to pursue, is to choose your career or vocation because you think it’s something you would really like to do. Don’t choose to be a lawyer because you think it will make you rich… It probably won’t make you rich… If that’s your motivation, you’ll end up hating it."