"Believe it or not, I always knew I wanted to be a lawyer," Ryan Clinton says. While a youngster in Baton Rouge, La., Clinton learned about Huey P. Long Jr., the state’s legendary populist governor. Long was known as a champion of the common man, Clinton says.

"That’s what introduced me to this concept of being for someone else," he says. "I think that probably was what brought me to law more than anything else."

Clinton has been working since 2006 on animal welfare issues and, with a group called Austin Pets Alive!, convinced the Austin City Council in 2011 to end the unneccesary euthanasia of the city’s sheltered animals.

Clinton’s concern for animals goes back to his first dog — a black Labrador collie mix — that his family adopted when Clinton was just a week old. The dog died when Clinton was 12.

"Sargent and I grew up together," Clinton says. "When he was dying of all kinds of cancer, he would only accept food out of my hands," he says. "We were very closely connected."

Now Clinton and his associates are working to expand the Austin no-kill program to other cities through the nonprofit American Pets Alive!.

"I think I am most comfortable when I am advocating for someone or something else," Clinton says. "It’s what I love doing."

Clinton began his legal career as an appellate associate with Vinson & Elkins in Austin, where he had been a summer associate in 1999, the summer before graduating from the University of Virginia School of Law.

He joined the Texas Attorney General’s Office as an assistant solicitor general in 2002 to gain more courtroom experience. He handled appeals in the Texas Supreme Court and the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

"It was great work," he says. "It was great training."

Among his responsibilities was representing the state and Texas A&M University, in state and federal courts, in cases stemming from the 1999 collapse of the Aggie Bonfire, which resulted in the deaths of 12 people.

Even in the rarified environment of talented appellate lawyers in the solicitor general’s office, Clinton stood out, says James Ho, a partner in Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher in Dallas and a former Texas solicitor general. Clinton handled litigation that was legally complex and fast-paced, Ho says.

"I remember being impressed with how quickly Ryan was able to capture and distill information," Ho says.

By 2008, Clinton says he was ready for a different challenge and joined Hankinson LLP (then Hankinson Levinger). He has eight or nine appeals in process and says that seven of them are oil and gas cases.

Clinton wrote the appellate brief for Occidental Permian Ltd. v. Helen Jones Foundation, a multimillion-dollar gas royalties dispute, which has long-term ramifications for gas-royalty obligations, says Rick Thompson, managing partner of the firm.

"He’s very meticulous," Thompson says. "He is an outstanding lawyer and pays gritty attention to detail."