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« Interview: Margaret Denton: The In-House Counsel Career Path | Main | Interview: Warren Brown: Litigator Turned Baker »

Interview: Julie Richmond: Litigator Turned Cartographic Connoisseur

By day, Julie Richmond is an associate at Berman DeValerio Pease Tabacco Burt & Pucillo, a 30-lawyer class action securities litigation boutique. However, at nights and on weekends (and any other spare time she can find), Richmond, with husband Steve and brother-in-law Brian, is the force behind WardMaps - an online seller of archival prints of vintage American city neighborhood maps.

Richmond became interested in "cartography" after finding an old Boston real estate atlas at an antique shop that had very elaborate and beautifully engraved maps showing the details of all the homes and owners within an area of only a few blocks. Richmond and her husband decided to begin collecting more maps, digitizing them, and selling them online. Digital versions of the maps now appear on coasters, greeting cards and mousepads. The company's collection now numbers over 4,000 maps.

Richmond's advice to aspiring lawyer entrepreneurs: "Lawyers are naturally risk-averse. My advice to someone interested in moving in a new direction is to start small. Don’t take an all-or-nothing approach – 'either I’m a lawyer or I’m something else.' Your legal skills will likely help you no matter what you want to do. If everything comes together, your new interests outside of work will probably help you to find your practice more enjoyable, and they could very literally open new professional doors for you."

Click below for Richmond's interview.

JD Bliss (JDB):  You’ve maintained an active career as a securities litigator while, in just two years, building up a unique and successful online business selling archival prints of vintage American city neighborhood maps.  Your business success raises the question, why did you originally choose law school and a legal career?

Richmond:  Actually, I had initially planned on a business career.  My undergraduate majors at Tufts University were economics and Japanese, and then I enrolled in both the School of International Service and law programs at The American University in Washington, DC.  The goal I had in mind was to work for a multinational company, or the government, handling trade or other global business issues.  But during my first year in law school I really developed a liking for the intellectual and problem-solving challenges of the law.  I made the decision to focus on my JD exclusively, and I received it in 1998.

JDB:  How has your career as a lawyer developed since then?

Richmond:  As a Boston native I wanted to return to my hometown.  I passed the Massachusetts bar and joined a large national firm and started practicing in securities and corporate law.  While I enjoyed the work I wasn’t as pleased with the large firm environment, so in 2002 I accepted the opportunity to join Berman DeValerio Pease Tabacco Burt & Pucillo, a 30-lawyer class action securities litigation boutique.  I’m now focusing strictly on securities litigation, and still find my practice to be personally satisfying.  It’s not the only interest in my life, however, and I’m glad to be at a firm that’s been positive about my pursuit of my personal business.

JDB:  Could you explain how your interest in vintage maps developed?  Your company’s web site, WardMaps.com describes you as a “cartographic connoisseur,” which sounds like a very specialized field.

Richmond:  More than anything, it’s really a reflection of having grown up in Boston.  I’ve always been interested in history and art related to the city, and when I happened to find an old Boston real estate atlas at an antique shop I was really intrigued by it.  Atlases like this were done in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and had very elaborate and beautifully engraved maps showing the details of all the homes and owners within an area of only a few blocks.  As you track the maps over a period of time you can see how the entire city developed, ethnically and economically.  I found a 1902 atlas with 40 of these impressive individual maps, started collecting more, and hit on the idea that many other people who share a passion for Boston and its neighborhoods would enjoy these maps if they were more accessible.

JDB:  How did you go from having the idea to creating a company that made it a reality?

Richmond:  My husband Steven Beaucher is an architect and web designer, and he shared my enthusiasm for building and sharing a collection of the maps.  We started collecting them in earnest in the spring of 2003, and decided that making digital images of the maps was the best way to preserve and reproduce them.  It was also obvious that if we could sell the images, it would give us money to buy more maps.  We took a multi-track marketing approach.  Steven and his brother Brian, who is a photographer and digital artist, developed our web site, which went live in the spring of 2004.  As we built up our collection of maps and customers started asking for more ways to display them, we put the digitized images on greeting cards, postcards, coasters and tiles, and started framing and matting both the original maps and digitized reproductions.  We also offer custom maps where we digitally combine several of our maps to produce virtually any composition.  Another marketing angle for us was to go to local arts fairs in the Boston area to display and sell our products; by the end of the year we’ll have done 15 fairs in 2005, all on the weekends.  We continue to run the whole business online and out of our respective homes/studios in Boston’s South End and the Fenway neighborhood.

JDB:  What is your role in the business – do you have a specific area of responsibility?

Richmond:  One of the greatest things about it is that I’m learning skills that never would have been part of my career as a lawyer.  I help with the digital scanning of the maps – last month alone we scanned approximately 2,000 maps.  Each map takes about 20 minutes to scan and countless hours to “restore” and print, so it is definitely a meticulous and time consuming process.  One of our unique features is that we sell restored and unrestored digital prints.  Using digital restoration, we can remove the stains, tears and rips from the maps, while of course still preserving the antique look of the maps.  This is a highly detailed process that my brother in law Brian has taught me, and that I especially enjoy.  I’ve also learned web site design, and enter the digital images of new maps on our web site.  I handle the business end of things also, including the financial and marketing details.  It really is an all-encompassing activity.

JDB:  How about your legal training?  Does that play a role in your skill package for the business?

Richmond:  It does, but only in a general way.  My corporate law background enables me to do cost/benefit assessment when we take a step like introducing a new product or purchasing new equipment.  Plus, negotiation and analysis are the same basic skills whether you’re dealing with opposing counsel or working out a deal with a customer or other map dealers.

JDB:  All your business activities sound tremendously time consuming.  How much time do they actually take?

Richmond:  It’s a given that I can’t take anything away from my “nine-to-five” job at the firm.  That means I’m basically spending most of my nights and weekends on WardMaps.com – probably on the order of 15 or so hours a week.  There’s always something to do:  accounting, updating orders, scanning, developing new product ideas.  And most of the weekends are devoted to the shows that we do in the Boston area.  I feel as though if I’m not always doing something, I’m not moving the business ahead.  And it’s still new and exciting for me, so I really enjoy it.

JDB:  How does the business integrate with your practice, both in terms of your personal satisfaction and the way you’re perceived at your firm?

Richmond:  Right now business and the law are two separate spheres.  I still enjoy my work as a lawyer, the intellectual challenge and the interaction with my colleagues.  And I enjoy the very different aspects of running the map business – the artistic creativity, the one-on-one interaction with customers are very different from writing a brief.   I feel enriched by both.  As for my colleagues in the firm, they are some of my biggest boosters and customers.  I think I’ve sold a map to virtually everyone I work with, and I’m intrigued by the fact that lawyers generally seem to be one of my biggest customer groups.   At this point my Berman DeValerio customers display their maps in their homes, but before long I hope we’ll be seeing some on the office walls at the firm.

JDB:  What kind of future do you see for WardMaps.com?  Will you reach a point that you would consider making it your primary focus?

Richmond:  We’re getting to the point where we really have a solid collection – around 4,000 original maps.  We’re also at the point where we don’t need to be investing every dollar back into the business, and are starting to show a profit.  People are always asking us for earlier years and other cities, so we’ve expanded our geographic focus from Boston to include other areas of New England, selected cities like New York, Philadelphia and Rhode Island, and even a few cities in Europe.  If the company really takes off at some point in the future certainly I might consider shifting my primary focus to it, but for now I’m concentrating on maintaining and improving what I have in both parts of my professional life.

JDB:  Given the satisfaction you’ve found at building your personal interest into a business, what advice would you give other attorneys who would like to pursue an interest outside the law but are reluctant to make a commitment?

Richmond:  Lawyers are naturally risk-averse.  My advice to someone interested in moving in a new direction is to start small.  Don’t take an all-or-nothing approach – “either I’m a lawyer or I’m something else.”  Your legal skills will likely help you no matter what you want to do.  If everything comes together, your new interests outside of work will probably help you to find your practice more enjoyable, and they could very literally open new professional doors for you.

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