"I don’t care if they’re your best friend, you need a contract."
Katherine grew up in Rooty Hill, a working class area in Sydney’s Western Suburbs. She attended the local Catholic school, St. Aidan’s, and then Our Lady of Mercy College at Parramatta.
Was she a good student? “I loved school and learning. I always enjoyed reading, and didn’t particularly like sport. I always seemed to have an injury on sports day. I’d much prefer to go to the library and read a book than do those silly cartwheels. I grew up as an only child, so I’m very comfortable with my own company and learnt from an early age how to entertain myself.”
Katherine’s father worked as a sales rep and her mother worked part-time in a kitchen. “My great grandmother ran one of the first boarding houses in Parramatta and had a real estate license. She was a very strong woman.” Katherine adds.
When did the legal profession first interest Katherine? “I’ve always wanted to be a lawyer. I’ve long had the idea that, if people are being picked on, you’d come to their aid. So, the idea of justice was always there for me.” Katherine was a good debater and believes the ability to develop a cohesive, coherent argument is one of her key skills, and that this should indeed be a skill for all business people.
Even with good marks, Katherine didn’t initially get into law school, so she undertook a BA in communications at UTS (University of Technology Sydney), with a focus on court reporting, then graduated later in law at UNSW (University of New South Wales).
To help pay her university fees, Katherine started her own part-time business at just 15. “I was employed on weekends to do the filing at Selborne Chambers. Several large corporate collapses were happening at the time, which were paper wars in themselves. So I set up Legal Rescue Services. I also used to do a little paralegal support for barristers.
“Quite a few of the barristers’ chambers still keep the old-style leather law books, and they all need to be oiled so that was my Christmas holiday job. My father then took it over when he retired and he still does it.”
Katherine recalls, “At 24, I went straight to the bar and was a practising barrister by the age of 25, mainly because I’d been working around that environment for the previous 10 years and was comfortable with it.”
That comfort level didn’t quite entirely prepare Katherine though. “What I found difficult was the old-fashioned way in which the bar association ran nearly 20 years ago. Having a business card was unheard of, let alone doing any of this activity called ‘marketing’. You didn’t mention marketing. You didn’t mention money either and these were the very two items I needed to mention.”
Katherine decided to go again it alone after pursuing other avenues. “When I was at the bar, I was working for myself. After that I became an in-house advocate for a few small firms and then I went to Legal Aid for nine years. I started on my own about four years ago and, like all barristers, reverted to being a sole trader.”
As with many businesses, the secret is to finding your niche market. “Law is so cumbersome and huge; you can’t possibly know every piece of law about every area. Many smaller practices foundered because they had to cover the rent and wages and they would take on matters where they were unfamiliar with the law. This is one of the biggest problems in law firms.“
Katherine found her niche by looking at her strengths. “I’d done quite a lot of criminal law and liked environmental law so I commenced a master’s in Maritime Law at the University of Wollongong while I was at Legal Aid. That’s when I got involved in the area of fisheries prosecutions, evidentiary issues about fishing and that was part of my masters degree. From that, I developed an interest in marine and aquaculture law.”
This would definitely appear to be a growth area, as Katherine notes that “By 2020, it’s estimated there will be 10 billion people on this planet. We can’t fit anymore cows, sheep or chickens, so there has to be another way of feeding the rest of the world. My view is that the aquaculture industry is in its infancy. It’s also very misunderstood.
“Aquaculture does need a stronger voice which is why I became part of World Aquaculture Society because the scientists need to let some of the business people, entrepreneurs and compliance people such as lawyers, into it.”
Aquarius Lawyers work in four specific areas: aquaculture and fishing; ocean law; shipping; and marine law, essentially anything to do with water .“There are a few big firms which handle shipping, but in terms of aquaculture, marine law and mariculture, I’m the go-to person,” says Katherine. She adds, her main point of difference “is that the person you talk to owns the business, and is the person that does your work. You get 20 years of experience directly, and it does make a difference.”
Aquaculture is an international business, and it’s not just about the growing fish, licensing and environmental issues, there are also labelling issues. “If you want to sell into the European Union, your labelling has to be compliant with their law which means it has to be very specific in aspects such where the fish has been raised or caught, what it’s been fed and many other details.”
Through the University of Wollongong, Katherine provides training to the Pacific Island Fisheries Associations to help them develop their prosecutions. “When we talk about illegal fishing there are two types. You can have a license to fish however if you are given a license for a specified tonnage, and you exceed that limit, that becomes illegal fishing and a breach of your license.
“Of course, the second way to breach the law is not to even get a license at all and simply trespass into other people’s waters taking their fish.” In Australia, Katherine comments that “we’ve got 200 nautical miles of our Exclusive Economic Zone. Within that zone we can control and monitor fishing under the Law of the Sea. If you’ve ever flown from Australia to Los Angeles, then you’ll have seen the vastness of the ocean and the challenges this raises. There are no police out there.”
Can anything be done to counteract these issues? “We’ve introduced things such as Vessel Monitoring Systems which track vessels and whether they’ve entered your zone, but it can’t tell you whether they’re actually fishing. It’s simply little blips on a map. There have been attempts to undertake prosecutions based on those blips, but it’s very difficult because you’d need to have expert evidence proving the only thing you could possibly be doing at that speed is trawling or fishing. What we actually do is train the officers to collect evidence to bring a prosecution.”
New Age Legal Solutions is a division of Aquarius Lawyers that Katherine specifically set up to ensure that all people can have access to an affordable legal service. “I’ve de-constructed the normal model of law firms, where for every six minutes they have to bill somebody. In the end, clients complain ‘Oh, I didn’t know it would cost me that much.’ We do the work for a flat or fixed fee. So, when you want a will, or a couple of documents drafted for your small business, I will say to you ‘Right, it’s going to cost you this.’ And that’s all it costs.”
This approach harks back to Katherine’s initial standpoint of justice for all and looking after people. “If you look at the history of the great philosophers who talked about justice, law is actually meant to be about helping people. It should be no different to doctors, and I think that’s become rather lost in the profession.”
How does she define success? Katherine says it’s about how many people she’s helped, how many lives she’s improved and how much justice has been done. “Justice is a loaded and very misunderstood word. To me, justice isn’t the end result; it’s the process. Everybody has a right to be heard in court. Justice isn’t about, ‘Oh, they got a good sentence’ it’s about, ‘Was the evidence collected properly? Did they have the right to cross-examine their accusers?’ I have to believe in the system.”
When Katherine is asked where she expects her business to be in the next five years, she sees it growing with the industry. “I envisage we can help develop the law around aquaculture in the next few years. It will also be about separating aquaculture from fishing. Aquaculture is very different to commercial fishing and it must develop its own law. South Australia has its own Aquaculture Act.”
Katherine also finds time to lecture at university, not just specifically about law but about how to run a business. “If you want to set up a business, what are some of the things you need to think about? What are your contracts? What’s your intellectual property?” Aquarius also runs courses on that theme including online options, through Katherine’s other business, Aquarius Education.
The focus of Aquarius Education is to design, develop and deliver innovative adult education solutions, and enhance students’ skills and knowledge for life-long learning. As part of that process, they also encourage the development of leadership skills.
Satisfaction comes from the outcomes for Katherine. “I particularly like the challenge of law, and I like the results: people get what they deserve; or find their estate’s well prepared; or they understand what their retirement village contract is.”
When asked is working in law very “dry”, Katherine is quick to counter: “That’s a bit of a misconception. Lawyers make law boring so nobody else goes into it. It’s actually not. The stories about my clients and even some of the cases that go before the court are really interesting. One surprising aspect of lawyers I found when I worked for some of the big firms was that they couldn’t communicate. Brilliant lawyers, but if you asked them to succinctly explain something in a paragraph, it was absolutely impossible. They lacked the ability to communicate to the average person.”
There are also other elements of the profession where Katherine would like to see improvement. “I think there’s been lack of focus on ethics, for the last few years. I see some tactics in court that I think are very poor and reflect poorly on the profession.”
All businesses ride through highs and lows and Katherine’s business is no different. “I set it all up from nothing so it’s been a learning curve. I didn’t buy an existing practice with clients, so it’s been difficult, because you’ve got to get out, you’ve got to network and set yourself up.”
There are also misunderstandings about the amount of investment in education. As with many professions or businesses, the level of knowledge required does not arrive overnight. “I’ve spoken at fishing conferences in Naples, Chile and other locations around the world and I’m able to do that because I have three Masters degrees: a Masters of law; a Masters in maritime law; and a Masters in adult education.”
Marketing of the legal profession has its own complications explains Katherine. “Marketing by lawyers is usually either very tacky – the ambulance chaser comes to mind – or they look so slick people think they can’t possibly afford it. Most law firms don’t think about it because they’re lawyers and they think hanging up a shingle is going to get you work. One of the key things is, clients need to trust you. New Age Legal Services gains that trust because somebody with the experience actually does your work.”
Katherine also advocates a ‘prevention is better than cure’ approach. “If I can get in front of a group of people, I can get across that we’re your business partners. Don’t call us when it’s all too late, just call us when there’s a small problem and we might be able to help you.”
Katherine’s advice to businesses who are starting out is to get your structure right. “Understand the difference between a sole trader, a partnership and a company. Spend six months sorting out those foundations and fundamentals, and also think about how you’re going to protect your idea through intellectual property and, whatever you do in business, have a contract. Even if they’re your best friend, you need a contract.”
Who does Katherine admire? “I would have to say former High Court judge, Justice Mary Gaudron; she was very down to earth and very helpful to women.”
When it comes to measuring success, Katherine is adamant. “Success is not about money. Mother Theresa didn’t have money and we’d probably label her as very successful. The same with the Dalai Lama.”
Katherine continues, “In my view, how a business makes its money is more important than how much it actually makes. Success is about how you look after, not just your bottom line, but also the planet and the people. We also need to ensure that the people within our workplace are well provided for, and that we offer flexible working conditions. Many businesses just look at how much they can get out of a person without investing in their employees, which is very narrow-minded.”
How does Katherine relax in her spare time? “I’m passionate about a few things and one of them would definitely be racing cars. It’s certainly taught me a lot about business as well. In car racing, occasionally you’ve got to take risks, but it’s always measured risk. Whilst you go into corners very quickly, you also need to be able to exit them safely. My other passion is netball.”
- “Justice isn’t the end result, it’s the process.”
- “Occasionally you’ve got to take risks, but it’s always measured risk.”
- “Whatever you do in business, have a contract. I don’t care if they’re your best friend, you need a contract.”
Katherine Hawes is a globally recognised figure in the emerging field of marine and ocean law, which includes aquaculture and maritime law. She lives life in the fast lane; advising international fishery and shipping corporations, lecturing law students at university and racing sports cars.