Attorney, First Lt., U.S. Army Infantry, 1968–1971.
Interviewed by Matthew Totsky
Photography by Brett Mountain
Meet Birmingham resident Randolph Wright. A Michigan native, he was born in Detroit, and grew up in Dearborn and Grand Rapids. He studied at Western Michigan University and was drafted into the Army right after he graduated in 1968. After several years of training, he was sent to Vietnam and served there for one year. When his tour of duty was over, he enrolled in Wayne State University law school.
Over the years, he’s worked hard to develop his practice and has dedicated much of his spare time volunteering and helping his fellow Vietnam veterans.
“In the early 1980s, I got involved in Detroit Chapter No. 9 of Vietnam Veterans of America,” he says. “Later, I served on the VVA National Board of Directors. I’m also on the board of directors of a nonprofit international organization called Search for Common Ground, which is dedicated to the resolution of conflict without violence. I am very passionate about the work I’ve done with these organizations.”
Industry changes: Like most industries, technology has transformed the practice of law. It’s almost unrecognizable from where it was when I first started — from word processing to fax machines to the Internet — it’s been an amazing transition. For example, the law library has shrunk and been transferred electronically so it’s accessible at any time. In the early days of my practice, one would dictate a letter and send it out and wait days for a response. Now the response time is almost immediate because we are all connected 24/7. The days of closing a transaction face to face and celebrating at a closing dinner are giving way to all electronic closings. These days, you often never meet the clients or other attorneys in a transaction in person.
Professionally speaking: When I returned from Vietnam, I immersed myself in getting a law degree and finding a job. At the time, a career in law was the only thing I had considered. I didn’t really consider other options, so I stuck with my first choice and it turned out to be the best one for me. I love the practice and have had many of the same clients throughout my whole career.
Proudest career accomplishment: In the first half of my career, I practiced business law, banking law and business litigation. About halfway through, I made the decision to shift toward international law. I tried to ease into it, but got a huge piece of Russian business early on. This accelerated the process and we were successful right out of the gate. Looking back, I’m pleased with the way it all happened.
Career thoughts: I take pride in my emphasis on solid business relationships and the way I’ve developed them and gained the trust of my clients. I prefer to work face to face rather than over the phone or by email. This approach just works better for me and it’s something I’ve tried to sustain over my entire career.
Passion for: Nonprofit work is very important to me. With the veteran movement, we’ve worked to raise funds and make good investments on their behalf. But the biggest investment is the human capital, the volunteers who work on behalf of vets who are disabled, homeless or have post-traumatic stress disorder. I’m proud to be associated with these organizations. For us, it was always a grassroots movement to look after our own. The next generation of vets will have to do the same thing.
Life in Birmingham: We raised our family here, and it’s a great community with a strong school system and committed parents. This makes a huge difference and my wife, Cathy, and I have enjoyed that aspect of it over the years. I’ve traveled a lot and have been lucky to see a lot of places all over the world — and there isn’t anything out there I would trade our home for. The growth in the city has also been exciting. It’s become a destination and that’s nice to see.
Favorite place to hang out: Da Nang in Clawson is my favorite Vietnamese restaurant. I never appreciated this cuisine when I was in service, but grew to love it here. Our chapter of the Vietnam Veterans of America has a special connection to the owner, Kim, and we helped locate her family in Vietnam and bring them here to Michigan.
My perfect day: Whenever I get free time, I enjoy watching sports. Both of my sons played Division 1 lacrosse, and I still follow that. My dad was a lifelong Lions fan so I’ve continued that tradition. I’m still hanging in there with them. Also, we have a place in Drummond Island, and there are so many outdoor activities up there. It’s a great place to relax, walk the dog and read novels.
What most people don’t know about me: Not everyone knows that I am a Vietnam combat vet. I don’t make a point to bring it up, but after this article more people will surely know. But if that helps make more people aware of the need to support returning veterans, then it’s a good thing. NS