Ryan was the oldest of four brothers. He holds a bachelor's degree in political science from Birmingham-Southern College, and a juris doctorate from the University of Alabama School of Law. While in school he worked on a Tennessee Valley Authority survey crew.
Ryan is a shareholder at Maynard Cooper & Gale, and chairs the firm's Governmental and Regulatory Affairs practice group. He served as head of the transition team for incoming Governor Robert Bentley in 2010, and later de-registered as a lobbyist in order to volunteer his services as special counsel to the governor. In that role Ryan helped to create the Tornado Recovery Action Council to coordinate the state's response to the April 2011 tornado outbreak.
After leaving that position, he returned to lobbying. Among his clients was prison medical care contractor Corizon, which later hired Maynard Cooper & Gale to defend the state against a lawsuit brought by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
In January 2015, in the wake of UAB president Ray Watts' announcement that the UAB Blazers football team would be disbanded, Ryan was hired to represent the university on "educational and governance issues, including strategic planning initiatives and working with community and government leaders." In September of that year he was included as part of a 22-member UAB Liaison Committee formed to improve communications between the University of Alabama Board of Trustees and the Birmingham community. Later that month he was named Vice Chancellor for Government Affairs for the US System and also named special deputy counsel for the UA System and Vice President for Governmental Affairs for the UAB Health System.
Ryan lives in Homewood with his wife, Beth Thompson, and daughter, Abigail.
- "Alabama Gov.-elect Bentley adds to transition team." (November 10, 2010) Associated Press/Anniston Star
- "Top 40: Clay Ryan" (March 4, 2011) Birmingham Business Journal
- Toner, Casey (August 13, 2014) "Powerful firm lobbies for Alabama prison health contractor, then defends company in court." Mobile Press-Register
- Stein, Kelsey (January 7, 2015) "UAB President Ray Watts hires lawyer, PR firm as dialogue around school's future continues." The Birmingham News
- Enoch, Ed (September 5, 2015) "Committee meets to try to heal rift between UA system, Birmingham community, UAB." Tuscaloosa News
- Archibald, John (September 14, 2015) "Ray Watts defender Clay Ryan gets big UA System job." The Birmingham News