Illawarra Mercury

Wollongong lawyer's career of giving back honoured

Helping out: Graham Lancaster AM said his honour recognises a spirit of generosity. Picture: Adam McLean

In primary school, Graham Lancaster was called 'The Professor'.

"Kids would bully me because they wanted me to answer their questions, they wanted me to help them with things," he said.

Moving to the Illawarra at the age of four from the UK, Mr Lancaster had to overcome being an outsider, marked out by his red hair.

"That manifested in that I had to learn, I had to perform better at school."

Mr Lancaster's study habits earned him not only his nickname, but a lifelong skill.

"I would help kids with their work, because I knew more, and in doing that, you get a slippery slope of altruism and keep helping out."

A lifetime of helping out earned Mr Lancaster a Member of the Order of Australia honour at this Queens Birthday Honours. Mr Lancaster was recognised for significant service to the law, and to the Illawarra region.

Legal career: Mr Lancaster in 2004 when joining Access Business Lawyers. Picture: File

With a nearly 40 year career in the law, culminating in the establishment of his own firm in 2015, Mr Lancaster has pushed for greater recognition for specialist areas of expertise, particularly in commercial litigation, but all the while, has constantly been putting his expertise towards supporting community organisations and initiatives, in the same spirit of helping out as he was known for in his early years.

"That cycle reinforces itself, you go on to bigger and better things and then eventually you find you've been involved with a number of charities, you've drafted their constitutions, sat on their boards. So, maybe it came from not wanting to be bullied and being a redhead."

The Illawarra has been the benefit of much of Mr Lancaster's energies.

No. 1 fan: Graham Lancaster is a regular fixture at Illawarra Hawks home games, pictured here with wife Catherine Lancaster. Picture: Sylvia Liber

Between 1990 and 2010, Mr Lancaster was an active member of Corrimal Apex Club, instigating mock trials and public speaking competitions for schools, and also served as a director of the national organisation.

While initially drawn to the clubs as a networking opportunity, Mr Lancaster advocated for greater inclusion in the organisation, including combining what were until then distinct men's and women's organisations.

Mr Lancaster said he was motivated by a spirit of reciprocity.

"Most people these days understand reciprocity as what am I entitled to, whereas reciprocity is you've got to give first and then you receive something back," he said. "If you give service, then you will receive back gratitude, teamwork, friends and self development."

Rather than thinking of networking as a way to find the next client or business opportunity, networking was more about connecting people.

"That attitude that networking is to grow your own business, or your own ego or anything like that, that's an attitude that's going to get you into trouble," he said. "Because of the law of reciprocity, if you go into networking with the expectation of getting something from it, without giving, it's the wrong motive and you'll soon be discovered."

This approach netted Mr Lancaster the award for Champion Networker at the Illawarra Women in Business awards earlier this year, an organisation that he said had been generous to him when he first started out on his own.

Connections: Graham Lancaster receives the award for Champion Networker at the 2022 Illawarra Women in Business Awards. Picture: Anna Warr

"There have been inequities in the past, and those inequities should be addressed, so I'm happy to help women, or anyone, in business," he said. "I also attend because there's not that many men who go to their functions at times, and I want to be in that room to demonstrate we're not all bad."

With a thriving law practice and a presence at local events from The Illawarra Connection to Hawks games, it could seem that Mr Lancaster is the image of success, but he says, there have been challenges along the way. Starting out on his own was one of those periods.

"There were periods of stress and darkness in my life and the people that I associate with and the support that I get helps me to keep going," he said. "My wife and children have been part of that support, going into business on my own, my wife said she would happily mortgage the house to raise the money for it, or sell the house if we had to move into something smaller. I thought, with that level of support, how can I fail?"

Through working with initiatives such as the Barstool Brothers, Cancer Council, Relay for Life and various mentoring roles, Mr Lancaster has tried to give some of that support back.

200 donations: Graham Lancaster has donated blood, sweat and tears, literally, to causes throughout the Illawarra. Picture: Supplied

Now having an AM at the end of his title, Mr Lancaster said not much would change, but hoped that the level of recognition could rub off on the organisations he works with.

"In one sense, I will have to behave - those who know me [would describe me] as eccentric, at times - but I certainly don't plan on wearing the medal when I'm going down to pick up the shopping."

Mr Lancaster said he would still be wildly yelling in support of the Hawks at every home game, and as much as the honour from the Governor General was significant, it was the small acts of generosity that he hoped to continue.

"When I wear the horns to a game, that's not just me being crazy, that's me providing a source of encouragement to the team, enjoyment for the other fans," he said. "I've had little kids smile, and if you can do that and make people happy, why not?"

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