Spirit of the law

Written on the 30 November -1

Lawyer Robert Hynes was recently included on a Naiman Clarke 20 Most Influential Lawyers list

ROBERT Hynes is an exception to the corporate rule - he started his firm, Hynes Lawyers, on the Gold Coast and two years ago, it successfully spawned a solid practice in Brisbane.

Mr Hynes was included on the recent Naiman Clarke 20 Most Influential Brisbane Lawyers list and made it to No. 45 on The Gold Cost Bulletin's 100 most-powerful Gold Coasters list.

"I don't think any other firms have made that move (to Brisbane)," says Mr Hynes, adding that it was just a matter of the State's capital offering bigger opportunities.

"When we commenced in 1997, we set ourselves a five-year plan to be the best commercial practice on the Gold Coast. We were in the Top 3 by 2003. Opening offices in Brisbane was the next step in our evolution."

Mr Hynes started his career with Witheriff Nyst, which later became Minter Ellison. By 1997, he was a partner, but was restless and determined to branch out on his own.

"I had worked for larger firms and I wanted to get away from the bureaucracy. I always knew I wanted my own business," he says.

"Business fundamentals are the same - competitors, sales, costs, suiting your product to the market - just different products. The law is a business, like any other. It's just that lawyers can tend to complicate things."

His aim then, as it still is today, was to "inject vitality into the sometimes vintage field of law".

In the early days, when it was just Mr Hynes and a secretary, it was a case of being a 'one-stop shop', providing general commercial legal services.

"In those days, that's what we needed to do to grow as a company. The requirements on the Gold Coast were as diffuse as that," he says.

Originally a Brisbane boy whose love of the Gold Coast sprang from a move in 1993 to be closer to Surf Life Saving training and competing, Mr Hynes knew the intricacies of the Brisbane marketplace and had a strong network of professional contacts.

"We wanted to change the focus of the practice, narrowing down our services to key areas," he says.

"From being all things to all businesses, we realised we had to specialise to be able to offer the depth of expertise we'd need to have to compete in the south-east Queensland market with firms that have 300 to 400 staff."

Mr Hynes has 60 employees in his two offices, 30 of whom are lawyers.

"We dropped migration, liquor licensing, estate planning, asset protection, Japanese business, SME business structuring and entertainment and farewelled a lot of clients, but now we are able to focus on corporate work and property work," he says.

Part of the restructuring was the loss of 35 per cent of the company's lawyers, a rationalising which Mr Hynes describes as 'a necessary evil'.

"But we eased them out and found jobs for them. We replaced them with people with narrow focused skills and six months on the other side of that whole process, the company is a completely different beast.

"It's never been easier to run and it's never been in a better position. The market knows what we do, we are attracting better jobs and we have heaps of work partnering with like-minded clients."

With premises in the centre of Surfers Paradise, a big fish in the pond, Mr Hynes'

Brisbane venture was made with consideration that a CBD location could mean getting lost in a plethora of legal entities.

"We purposely chose premises in Fortitude Valley - we own the building - so we have presence and proximity to cafes and the culture of The Valley," he says.

Another facet of his professional expertise is involvement in Aegus - a private equity group that has 10 high-net worth investors who fund management buyouts.

"It began 18 months ago, specialising in the manufacturing and industrial fields. Small businesses are likely to encounter succession issues in the next five to 10 years," he says.

Aegus backs the managers of small businesses that would be too expensive for individuals to buy out and not big enough for large corporations.

"It's very big in the US and just taking off in Australia. In Queensland, it's a new concept and currently, we're seeing two new deals per week," he says.

Serendipity is seldom applied to the law, but in Mr Hynes' case, his path has brought him back to the clear-eyed idealism of his youth. Crucial to his business ethos is the motivation to 'give something back'.

"We donate to charities that are environmentally based. Global warming is a real issue," says Mr Hynes.

"When I first started in the law, I was involved in a volunteer group called Environmental Defenders Association. Now I have the chance to get behind environmental issues in a substantial way."

At 37 years of age, Mr Hynes actively encourages a healthy work-life balance in his staff and leads by example.

"In the early days, it was all about financial security. These days, I look at things in terms of 'is it what I want to be doing?' I have two young children and try and spend time with them as often as possible, rather than working around the clock. They're only this age once," he says.

"I try and keep healthy and I encourage a healthy culture in my offices. It's not about the hours, but about the outcomes. I want people who work hard, but also keep fit and lead happy, balanced lives.

"That leads to better work quality and clients relationships."

HYNES TOP TIPS

Surround yourself with people smarter than yourself. "The real skill of an entrepreneur is to harness the skills of good people."

• Clear vision. Believe in it and yourself, stay focused and follow your plan to
your goals.

• Never say never. "Say 'why not?' and
be persistent. If you hit an obstacle, get up and try again. Deal with each adversity individually. It's like climbing a mountain. Look at it as a gradual process - taking three steps, then moving on to the next three steps.

• Be ethical. "I always had a rule, from
the very beginning: I have to be able to sleep at night. My conscience has to be clear. In this industry, there is always the opportunity to take advantage of someone or a situation. But with ethical business dealing, you can feel comfortable with the decisions you make. Some people may justify their choices with a 'business is business' attitude, but one day, those people have a habit of turning up. Things come back in a full circle. I believe ethics are what define a person. You take that to the grave with you."


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