DICK FRANCIS fans will recognise the scene immediately. The place is Newmarket, the talk is of syndication for stud, bloodstock exports and stewards' inquiries. But the protagonist is not a typical Francis character: he is not a banker turned racehorse trainer or jockey turned sleuth, but a solicitor.
The term 'niche practice' could have been invented for Jeremy Richardson, who heads the Newmarket office of Taylor Vinters, a 23-partner firm with its headquarters in Cambridge. Few solicitors - Mr Richardson knows of only one other - can claim a client list composed exclusively of people from the racing world.
'I act for the whole range - trainers, bloodstock agents, jockeys, breeders. Some of their problems are not related to horses, so I suppose you could call me a specialised GP,' he says.
Mr Richardson arrived in Newmarket at the age of 15 and began riding out for trainers. 'Right from the beginning I worked in stables. I understand from the inside how the business works - I know its language.' His first-hand knowledge is useful in every aspect of his work. Buying and selling horses overseas, for instance, is not as simple as it sounds. 'Horses have the habit of injuring themselves, unlike, say, vintage cars,' he says. 'One of the questions to consider is, when does the animal become the property of the purchaser?'
Similarly, when drafting a syndication agreement for the sale of shares in a stallion at stud, specialist knowledge of complicated insurance arrangements concerning infertility is essential.
'The real niche expertise comes into play in what the lay public calls the doping of horses,' says Mr Richardson. 'Generally, it tends to be accidental - the contamination of feedstuffs, for example, or the overzealous use of medication by inexperienced vets. It's a very specialised area - you need a firm grasp of pharmacology and other scientific and veterinary subjects.'
Another side of Mr Richardson's work is acting for jockeys or trainers appearing before the Jockey Club's disciplinary committee. However, jockeys also have the same problems as anyone else; they move house and make wills.
'They may also want to buy a stud or publish a book. This is where being in partnership is an enormous advantage,' Mr Richardson says. 'I can pick my partners' brains and I refer quite a few of my clients to the Cambridge office. The firm has departments across the board, with particularly active company and commercial departments. Intellectual property issues that I need help on also frequently come up.'
Oddly, personal injury cases are rare. 'People involved with horses know they are dangerous and tend not to get involved in litigation. In any event, there are several charities that look after injured jockeys and stable staff.' Mr Richardson is secretary to the board of the largest, the Injured Jockeys Fund, as well as solicitor to the fund.
'A problem peculiar to my kind of practice is that conflicts of interest are common. For example, at a stewards' inquiry I may act for one jockey and have to cross-examine another who is also a client. I try to avoid the situation, but it can't always be done. If it were not for the understanding of the people involved, I would not be able to do my job.
'Another difficulty of building a niche practice is that you have to dedicate yourself to the industry of your choosing. I've often resented not being able to get away from work. I've also been jealous of giving away the advantages that come with the job. But I've finally built a team of support staff - three solicitors, one executive and three secretaries - and I've just taken my first uninterrupted holiday in 30 years.'
Mr Richardson's world is one that many would like to join - he frequently receives job applications from law students. 'A number of lawyers say I have a very interesting life and practice. I suppose I do, but to me it is clients and clients' problems that need to be resolved.
'Few people can marry their interests and their trade,' he says. 'Luck has a lot to do with it, although I have worked hard to build up this side of the firm's practice. Racing is high profile in a small way, and it's nice to be acknowledged as part of the industry. One of the things I enjoy most is being privy to a lot of secret information. But a prerequisite for success was that I had to establish a reputation for discretion.
'To a certain extent I grew up with my clients. Many of us were youngsters together.' His client list includes the Aga Khan, the National Trainers' Federation and Lester Piggott.
Many clients are friends as well. This is not without its problems. 'I envy City solicitors who never have to see their clients out of working hours. It's not easy facing a client over dinner the day my bill arrives. And of course they all think you're a millionaire,' Mr Richardson says.
The racing industry has not escaped the recession. 'There is less money around. At one time, many racehorse owners were members of Lloyd's. That is having an effect. There are fewer horses in training, less money around to buy yearlings.'
None the less, says Mr Richardson, there are a number of lawyers who 'look at the bloodstock industry with acquisitive eyes and think that it is a goldfish bowl worth fishing in'.
Mr Richardson rarely rides now, and he says he 'misses it terribly. It's partly a question of time, but also of nerve,' he says.
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