In June 2011, Ryan Farley claimed a status he had ached for since graduating from law school 13 years earlier: partner at a large law firm.

The achievement, however, didn’t come as Farley once expected it would, through a singular devotion to the first firm that hired him. Like many attorneys struggling to advance in an increasingly competitive law firm environment, he wound up making a few unanticipated stops that slowed his progress.

In Farley’s case, that meant spending the first nine years of his career as a litigation associate at Mayer Brown before being told he had no future at the firm. Next came counsel positions at Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney and Baker & Hostetler. Eventually, Richmond-based LeClairRyan recruited him to join its New York office as a shareholder in 2011.

Though Farley finally had the title he had long aspired to, an addiction to alcohol made it difficult for him to stay focused on the work that went with it. Less than a year after he joined LeClair, the firm fired him. Then, on a Saturday morning in late September, police in Montclair, New Jersey, were called to Farley’s apartment, where they found him dead on the floor. He was 39 years old.

Farley’s death shook family members, friends, and former colleagues who had watched him work hard to carve out a niche at some of the country’s top law firms while struggling with the accompanying pressures.

“As an associate, he was not always in control of his career,” says Anthony Diana, a Mayer Brown partner who was five years ahead of Farley and became close to him over time. “Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.” Still, despite leaving Mayer Brown under a cloud of disappointment, Diana adds, Farley never stopped thinking of himself as a Mayer Brown attorney: “That’s what made Ryan the epitome of a good friend. He was intensely loyal.”