Name: Graham Richardson
Firm: Eversheds Sutherland
Role: Head of Konexo
Trained at: London Borough of Redbridge
Year qualified: 1990
What’s your most vivid memory from being a trainee?
I started my legal career working for the London Borough of Redbridge based out of Ilford town hall – a long way from leading a global alternative law offering. It was a great two years but quite a culture shock for someone from Cheshire. As a young trainee I had actual rights of audience as a local authority officer above those of normal trainees in law firms and remember being asked for the first time to go and do the rent arrears cases – on my own in Bow County Court.
It was in open court, the District Judge fully robed – packed with lawyers and spectators and defendants all pretty unhappy – the lawyers from the other local authority seeing me as a “newbie” would not even give me room on the front bench to present my cases.
Luckily I was saved by the council rent officer – my witness – who not only answered the questions but told me what to say. I recall to this day, though, that in my nervous state I visited the toilets – it was a no-go as they had been smashed up in a “defendant-related incident”. The next time was less stressful and the toilet had been fixed.
What is the wisest thing anyone ever said to you (and who said it)?
When I first got into a senior position at Eversheds Sutherland our CEO at the time was David Gray. One of the wise things David talked about was the need to continually push yourself out of your comfort zone – never get too comfortable as it didn’t lead to high performance and achievement. Whenever I met with him he would ask what have you done this month to put yourself out of your comfort zone? You always needed a good and credible answer it lead me to doing speaking events I would normally have turned down tackling issue I had been putting off – getting out to see challenging clients face to face.
I still assess myself today against his test. It works – I recalled his words as I walked out into room of 120 lawyers from Volvo in Sweden at their annual retreat to give them a presentation of legal risk for in house teams (not my known area – my colleague was ill at the last minute) and following the CEO who had just delivered a stunning session.
Who (for better or worse) has been the most influential person in your career? Why?
I have to say somewhat classically my father. I come from a family with no experience of the law and how to approach starting a career – my father was a mechanical engineer but always looking out for me – or maybe also keen I didn’t end up stuck at home. It was he who spotted the vacancy at Redbridge in The Times and helped me apply – I think he fancied the £16,000 salary for me, which in 1988 was great money.
So he set me on my way and I like to think I have never looked back. Worked for him as well as I didn’t have to ask him for money any more.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to get to where you are/do the job you do?
Lawyers are a cautious breed by nature – but I think the best advice I can give anyone is don’t be afraid to grab new opportunities that come along even if they can seem daunting and have risk attached to them. They might never come along again ! Try not to risk manage yourself out of it.
The openings won’t always work out but on the down side you could be turning down a chance that could change your life for ever, and personally even if things haven’t gone perfectly every time you learn a lot that you can use later.
When we started Konexo there were two of us, we had no work and I had just stepped away from managing a team of 400 turning over £45m. Eight years on Konexo is bigger than my old team and it’s been a great and stimulating ride along the way! But I nearly said no.
What’s your best friend from law school doing now?
I guess indicative of my slightly left field approach to law – he runs a restaurant chain.