Peter Graham is a man who likes to chart his own course. Fresh out of law school, without a single client, he launched his own practice on July 26, 1950. As a new kid on the block, clients weren’t beating down his door. A 23-year-old, Graham took any work he could find.
“It was only through word of mouth that I got clients. People were referred to you. There were no websites in those days,” says Graham. The Graham Thompson partnership was formed in 1954, when Graham entered into an agreement with English solicitor Bernard Thompson, “without a single piece of paperwork” between them. “In those days, a gentleman’s work was enough to solidify the deal,” says Graham, who served as a member of Parliament (MP for Long Island and Ragged Island from 1956 to 1972, and also serving as Minister of Labour and Housing from 1964 to 1967.
To grow his business beyond New Providence, Graham – a licensed pilot – would fly to Grand Bahama to meet with clients. Sixty five years later, he has the distinction of leading a law firm counted among the most successful in the country.
At 88, Graham is still one of the first to arrive at the office every morning. These days he services an advisory role in the firm’s strategic development, charting the way forward for the firm’s 30-plus lawyers and 100 staff. Graham Thompson is making the transition into its second generation. A significant amount of time, effort, money and training are being pumped into developing a strong crop of younger attorneys who will take the firm into the future.
Graham Thompson is a member of a group of the Bahamas most prominent law firms, which includes Callenders & Co, Higgs & Johnson, McKinney, Bancroft & Hughes, among others. These firms represent the largest commercial banks and insurance companies. They have worked on mega real estate transactions, high-profile litigation and have acted for most of the major foreign investment projects throughout the nation.
Today, most of Nassau’s oldest and most successful legal practices specialize in commercial law - banking and finance, private clients, corporate, litigation and dispute, and property and development. The complexity of the law today has led many firms to set up practice groups, becoming specialists in a specific area with a high level of expertise. In a borderless world, leading local firms do not restrict their operations to The Bahamas.
Graham Thompson is another firm that is expanding its reach. In 2000, the firm opened an office in Freeport, Grand Bahama, and in 2001, its licensed affiliate, GTC Corporate Services- specializing in all aspects of company formation and management – was established. Then, in 2012, the firm ventured into Turks & Caicos.
We opened [in Turks & Caicos] with primarily a litigation practice and it has grown, becoming successful beyond our wildest expectation, says Judith Whitehead, the firm’s managing partner. Whitehead focuses primarily on advising the firm’s high-net-worth clients and assisting in negotiating agreements with the government on major resorts and multi use developments.
Integrity also plays a large role in sustaining a successful practice. “You could be brilliant, but if you don’t have integrity you are nothing – in fact, you’re a danger, a liability,” says Peter Graham. The right corporate culture, that is, the principles and values that should shape the employees’ behavior, is key to establishing a firm’s longevity, he says.
Graham Thompson espouses “a collegial environment,” one where Whitehead says there is no “beating of the chest”. Graham Thompson hosts a major partners retreat every year and has a partners meeting every six to eight weeks. “This is not a nine to five job. You have to work, and you have to work weekends, and you have to put in long hours, and if I call you at two in the morning I do expect you to answer the phone and be very bright and cheerful,” says Whitehead. This is a firm that produces, but you can’t do that if you don’t genuinely respect and like your people. There’s a Graham Thompson fit. Some people make it; some people don’t.”
*Article also includes sections on McKinney Bancroft & Hughes, Callenders & Co., and Higgs & Johnson, which have been omitted from this excerpt.