18 October 1999
Richard James id finally leaving the law and he says it’s for good. Ryan Dunleavy talks to the outspoken Hammond Suddards partner about his new career
Richard James, corporate finance partner at Hammond Suddards’ Leeds office, is ambivalent about his career as a lawyer.
On one hand, James acknowledges that his interest in the more commercial aspects of law eventually led him to accept his new job as the managing director of the sports division at the e-commerce business Sports Internet Group.
However, on the other, he openly admits that the law profession has left him unfulfilled.
He says: “I don’t want to be a practising solicitor for the rest of my days. I got tired of practising law. It was too much of the same every day.”
But while it is not unusual for lawyers to move from private practice to in-house, few leave to manage a company.
Philip Evans, corporate finance partner at Garretts’ Leeds office, who used to work with James, says: “For a lawyer to go in as a managing director in that type of company is unusual.”
But James says: “I have always fancied moving into the commercial world as it has more to offer than law could.”
It is certainly an ambitious move that requires tremendous confidence, something that James is clearly not lacking, as his career testifies.
When at 16 years old he failed to make it as a professional golfer, James went back to school to complete his education with the hope of falling into another career.
It just happened to turn out to be law. “I did A-level law and thought it was easy. I am lazy and I wanted to earn quite a lot. I thought being a lawyer was an easy life and lucrative,” he says.
But after joining Allen & Overy as an articled clerk in 1984, James swiftly revised his opinion. “I looked around and saw people working exceptionally long and hard hours and did not want that life.”
Although James continued to work through a number of firms, the misgivings he had about his chosen career path continued to fester.
After qualifying in 1986 he made a radical career move, joining small general practice Freeth Cartwright, which later merged to become Freeth Cartwright Hunt Dickins.
“On the first day I sat behind my desk and thought: ‘I have done the wrong thing.’ It was a mistake for me to try to be a jack of all trades.”
A year later he went to Simpson Curtis, now known as Pinsent Curtis after the firm’s merger with Pinsent & Co in 1995.
He was made partner in 1991 but still felt disillusioned. So much so that James defected to Garretts in 1994.
However, James claims the problems that made him leave his former employer reared their ugly head at Garretts.
“Twelve or 13 lawyers moved from Simpson Curtis to Garretts. The move was one from a stuffy traditional firm to a meritocratic system within Arthur Andersen. There was a lot of fighting to be seen to be achieving to bring in corporate work and a lot of back stabbing,” says James of his time with Garretts.
He says: “I came in for a lot of stick because I was better known in the market. I became quite disillusioned with the place.”
The upshot was that James was sacked in 1996, but he had negotiated a move to Hammonds at about the same time.
He says: “Disillusionment and falling out with people meant that I started looking around in 1996.”
James then sued Garretts for a sum the firm agreed to pay him if he did not find work before 30 April 1996. He started at Hammonds on 1 May and, more importantly, won his case against Garretts, an episode which he describes as “amusing”.
Assessing James’ career so far, Evans says: “He has been around the houses in terms of firms. He was the type of guy who would not stick around in the profession if it was not his cup of tea, he always intended to look at different things.”
But, as if to deliberately contradict his opinion of his career so far, James says: “I have fairly good memories of Hammonds.”
It was his move to Hammonds that eventually led him to the career change he is making today, as James has been working with Sports Internet at the firm.
And he says that he will outsource Sports Internet legal work to Hammonds as long as he remains happy with the firm. “I will let Hammonds keep the corporate work if they are sensible on price.”
Just to reinforce his reservations about the legal profession, James says: “The downside of my job was dealing with lawyers. A lot of them tend to be divorced from the business world. We had fatuous debates about legal issues that bore no relation to the objectives of the client.”
Thankfully James is slightly more enthusiastic about his move to Sports Internet. He says: “I want to help develop a business. Sports Internet is young, growing and dynamic. I will help it expand. This is only the start. There are immense opportunities.”
Evans seems to agree. “I don’t know whether this will work out but I have good faith in him,” he says.
But even if Sports Internet flounders like so many internet companies have, James says: “If it goes wrong I will not start looking for jobs at law firms again.”
Corporate finance partner