Born and raised in the Bronx, Richman says he became interested in the law when he worked as a social worker and saw young offenders being shuttled through the criminal justice system. Feeling an "almost priestly calling," he took night classes at New York Law School and opened a firm in his old neighborhood after graduating, trolling the district's bars and restaurants with his Puerto Rican office manager trying to drum up clients. He carved out a reputation (and started making real money) in the '70s when he defended a string of mobsters. He quickly became one of the most prominent Mob lawyers in town and went on to rep members of all five of the city's families (Bonanno, Colombo, Gambino, Genovese, and Lucchese) during the '70s and '80s. But he represented mobsters of other ethnic backgrounds, too (such as Latino drug lords and Eastern European gangsters) as well as a handful of fallen political leaders including former Secretary of Labor Raymond Donovan and Democratic politician Paul Adler. Recently Richman has become more famous for his celebrity defenses: Over the past decade and a half, he's come to the aid of Jay-Z, DMX, Shyne, and D.L. Hughley.
The gregarious Richman is known for his one-liners ("I love murder—always one less witness to worry about") as well as his courtroom antics. At one trial involving multiple defendants, Richman used the "sleeping defendant routine"—he had his client sleep through the entire trial—a tactic that made the seemingly drowsy defendant come across as an unlikely trigger man. He's also managed to convince a jury that a murder victim "accidentally" fell on his client's knife seven times.