Alumni Spotlight: Ryan Citlau (2011-2017; Frankfurt)

July 6, 2022

Cleary Gottlieb alumni often reflect upon their time at the firm with fondness and gratitude.

Ryan Citlau (2011-2017; Frankfurt), General Counsel at trivago, shares some of his thoughts below.

When were you at Cleary, what practice group were you in and why did you choose Cleary/the group?

I was at Cleary from 2011 to 2017, and practiced capital markets in the Frankfurt office with Ward Greenberg. I was a bit of a special case, hired specifically to fill a need in that office. I applied at Cleary because it had a sterling reputation for being one of the best capital markets practices in Europe. This impression was confirmed when I interviewed with Ward, John Palenberg, Michael Volkovitsch and Gabi Apfelbacher, who all made such a wonderful impression of the firm’s culture and practice in Germany.

Tell us about your transition from Cleary to trivago. What went into your decision?

I was hoping to stay in Germany because my husband lived here. At the time, it seemed like transitioning to trivago might be a bit of a risk because it was a newly listed company without the more secure career trajectory that might be offered by other more established companies. I was initially brought on to help on public disclosure and compliance matters, which was work that I was well acquainted with from my time at Cleary. trivago has a culture of horizontal hierarchies and is very open to employees’ taking on new subject and responsibility areas. While we probably couldn’t have told you exactly what my position would look like after a year or two at trivago, I felt prepared for the dynamism of the role because part of Cleary’s culture is to figure things out and find your own way.

What advice do you have for a young Cleary associate who may want to pursue a similar career path?

Don’t overthink it! Sometimes moving in-house can feel like a step back at first, and in some respects, this will be true. You’re using a different skillset, and there are so many new things to learn. Even after coming from a great law firm, there is so much about business you can’t see until you start working on the other side. Just be patient with yourself, be willing to learn and trust your intuition. Anyone who has been at a firm like Cleary has a great resume and excellent skillset so in the end everything will work out no matter what happens.

You have held a few roles at trivago – how have they differed and what have you learned during your time in each role?

Most of my new roles have been growing into managing people. The legal department began very small so there was very much to do early on. Now my role has expanded significantly, managing a larger department. My corporate securities counsel role grew into very different things, where now I am at least involved in just about everything, from regulatory enforcement matters and litigation to data protection and everything in between.

When you move over to a company, you are all of a sudden the only one responsible for making decisions regarding a wide variety of matters, without the sounding board of a partner. You can ask a law firm for advice, but external advisors will usually only be helpful on a subset of questions. It’s really important to get the knack of when to go get advice. Sometimes, asking a firm is either not necessary or won’t be helpful.

Managing an in-house team is also very different from managing a team within a law firm. At a law firm, you have billable hours and a realization rate, so the profitability is measured and clear. But in a company, you are a cost center – and you constantly need to review the allocation of resources to the business and monitor actual legal spend compared to your forecast.

The pandemic has had an incredible impact on the travel industry. trivago magazine’s Go Big series was a really interesting way to stay relevant in a time when travel wasn’t possible. What were some challenges that were difficult to navigate and what makes you optimistic about the future?

The pandemic was very difficult for the travel industry. In late March 2020, at the peak of the pandemic-related lockdowns, 95% of our revenue was gone overnight. When that happens, there are so many things to deal with on a business level. For example, what will the company’s cost structure look like going forward? How much liquidity does the business have to remain operational? With these topics came a myriad of legal issues to consider.

The good news is that, as the world starts returning to normal, people are eager to travel again and as a result, there has been a lot of pent-up demand. While people will continue to travel, we are still learning whether old patterns will persist and whether some consumption habits will change for good.

Does working for trivago make you want to travel less or more?

I love to travel, and really enjoy experiencing new things. That is the case for most of the people who work at trivago – there are not a lot of home bodies here.

I’d say my favorite country that I’ve visited is Italy. It’s not too far from where I live, the weather is great and the food is fantastic.

Do you have any favorite memories from your time at Cleary?

I have a lot of really good memories from Cleary. What stands out to me the most is the people I met, many of whom have become really good friends.

What skill/substantive area of law/or personal experience did you learn at Cleary that has served you well after your time at the firm?

Cleary was very good at teaching core lawyering skills, like drafting and negotiating. Once you’re out in the real world, you deal with lawyers from all over the world with different backgrounds and you see such a variety of skillsets. The quality of work you learn at Cleary can really set you apart, and I’ve always been appreciative of that.

What advice would you offer any young associate that you wish someone had offered you?

Cleary is a great place to become a great lawyer – learn as much as you can! Some people think it’s great to make money at a big firm so you can pay off loans, which is true but that’s not everything. What sticks with you is what you learn, and there is so much to learn in the first years after law school. Ask questions and develop as many skills as you can.

Learn more about Cleary’s global alumni network here.