Meet the team: Maria Richards, Partner and Head of Residential Property - Blog - Coodes Solicitors

Meet the team: Maria Richards, Partner and Head of Residential Property

Posted on November 19, 2021

Maria Richards is a Partner and Head of Residential Property at Coodes Solicitors. She answers some questions about her 20-year career and life outside the world of conveyancing.

Can you describe what your role involves?

As Head of Residential Property, I manage a team of 35 based in our network of offices across Cornwall and Devon.

That means I’m responsible for the strategic direction of the department, incorporating activities, policies and procedures from the firm’s business plan and marketing strategy. An important part of my role is driving forward technological changes.

As line manager of the heads of each of our specialist conveyancing teams, my focus is on facilitating them to do their jobs to the highest standard. I support our teams with any technical queries on more complex matters. I’m also the main point of contact for the other professionals we work with, such as search providers.

Supporting the team is always my priority. As we’re all spread out, good communication across the department is vital. I send a Monday motivation newsletter and a thank you Friday email that includes all the great feedback we’ve had from clients.

What inspired you to become a lawyer?

I always perceived law to be a career for the most academic A*students. I considered myself to be an average student and I was also bullied at school, which really affected by confidence. I was very shy.

When I left school at 16, I had no idea what I wanted to do. My mum helped me narrow down my options and I went to college to train to be a legal secretary. I gained confidence and absolutely loved it.

After two years at college, I got a job as a junior secretary in a law firm. Within three months I was a senior secretary and I was promoted to paralegal within a year, studying for my CILEX qualifications in the evenings. I became a lawyer when I was 23 and qualified when I was 25.

When I attend careers fairs at secondary schools, I always tell my story and encourage 15- and 16-year-olds to consider a legal career. I want to give them the confidence that you don’t need to be a perfect student to get into law.  I found my niche and so can they!

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I love the technical aspects of being a lawyer. But what I particularly enjoy is not only being able to understand a complex legal document myself but then helping a client to understand it too. It’s very rewarding to see them get excited about what they’re buying and investing in.

I thrive on working with people at all levels. I get a buzz out of spending time with people – whether that’s colleagues or clients – and helping them to grow their understanding.

Can you describe your legal career to date?

After starting out as a secretary and working my way up to paralegal and legal executive, I had a break from being in a law firm. I spent three years at Cornwall College, teaching CILEX and that’s where I really gained my confidence.

Although I enjoyed teaching, I missed being in a law firm and returned to conveyancing. I have continued as an online tutor though. I’m an assessor for the Institute of Legal Secretaries and PAs  and Chief Examiner for the National Association of Licensed Paralegals and sit on their academic board.

I joined Coodes in 2013 and it was here where I gained the belief I could go further in the legal profession. This is where my career has really flourished.

You were promoted to Head of Residential Property in May 2020. How have you adapted during the pandemic?

Becoming department manager six weeks into the first lockdown was a baptism of fire. I wasn’t just stepping into my predecessor’s shoes, those shoes had changed completely.

In some ways, I relished the challenge. I had to do things differently and come up with my own ideas. Change can be very difficult in an organisation but it was really refreshing to see how quickly the team adapted to so much being thrown at them.

Of course, we’ve transformed the way we work through technology but I think the biggest change has been the way the team works together.

Previously, our staff from the firm would meet twice a year and would generally only work with colleagues in their own office. Now, using Microsoft Teams, we don’t focus on geography and instead mix people with colleagues who share their specialisms. We’re a much stronger team now and we all know one another so much better.

What do you think Coodes does differently from other firms?

I think what sets us apart is the communication between staff at different levels. Whatever position you’re in, people will listen to your thoughts and ideas. As a firm, we really care about our employees as well as our clients.

What skills and character traits do you think are most important for someone doing your job?

In residential conveyancing, time management and organisation are key. You’re dealing with high volume work and it’s very fast paced so you have to deal with a lot of different matters every day. You also need the confidence to pick up the phone and maintain good communication with clients.

What are you most proud of in your career to date?

Overcoming my fear of public speaking has been my biggest personal achievement. I’ve transformed from being someone who went bright red and shook whenever she had to speak in front of anyone to confidently presenting at conferences in front of 200 people.

If you’d told me when I was 16 that I’d one day speak at a conference or teach a group of students, I’d never have believed you. My years of experience and academic qualifications have come relatively easily in comparison.

Tell us something about yourself that your clients may not know

I’m an identical twin so if you say hello to me in a supermarket, it might not be me! I’m sometimes part way through a conversation with someone before but it dawns on me that they think they’re speaking to my sister.

Who is your greatest inspiration?

My parents have been a huge source of inspiration. My mum will help anyone and I think I’ve followed in her footsteps. As a stay-at-home mum, she didn’t have a career, but her work ethic shines through. I follow her example of turning up 15 minutes early and doing the very best you can with what you have. My Dad is a handyman and is also always the first person to volunteer to help.

I get so much satisfaction out of helping students and my team and I think I got that from my parents.

Contact Maria Richards on 01637 870736 or maria.richards@coodes.co.uk

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