"You should never let your fears get in the way of your dreams."
Rick and Richard Mitry
Richard Mitry says it was his father Rick’s idea to start their law firm, seven years ago. “I had about six months before I moved overseas and in that intervening period my father suggested we start a law firm. It got very busy very quickly and I didn’t actually go overseas!”
Rick Mitry was born in Lebanon and came to Australia with his mother at the age of three; his father migrated three years later. “My father had a shoe manufacturing business in Lebanon and in Haifa, in what was then Palestine.
“When the hostilities broke out, he stayed in Lebanon for a couple of years and then, in 1948, he thought he should leave. He was put on a boat thinking he was going to America; the whole outside world was America in those days. He ended up in Australia.”
As Rick comments, “I spent the first three years of my life without my father. Here in Australia, I was the only ‘wog’ on the block, regularly getting into fights with other kids around the St. George area. It was tough. I didn’t think I was any different from anyone else and yet people sniggered at me as I walked past them. So I felt the brunt of racial discrimination but it didn’t stop me; I persevered. I wanted to show them I could be as good as, or better than, them. I developed a lot of skills which made me better than them in other ways.”
Were Rick’s parents interested in education? “They were always highly focussed on education, and for me particularly because I was the youngest. I appreciated it and I’ve tried to live up to their expectations. School was pretty tough as I was the only migrant for a long time. I just focussed on completing my studies and go to University which I did. There’s a large volume of work to get through in Law. It’s not so much the difficulty or the complexity of it, it’s the volume.”
Rick recalls he did part-time work from an early age. When he wasn’t at school he was delivering papers or working in shops, and at university he even worked as a truck driver’s off-sider.
Rick clearly displays a healthy dose of pride in his son. “Richard’s developed his own following and his own expertise in a number of areas such as Information Technology, Media Law as well as Intellectual Property Law. That’s where the world is going. As in many industries and businesses, this is the age of specialisation. In the era of globalisation, we also really have to look at establishing markets in other areas, otherwise we just won’t be competitive.”
Proudly Rick mentions, “We have an office in Melbourne which is now starting to show the fruit of all the effort we’ve put in. We’ve got offices in Lebanon, and we have three or four people in the United Arab Emirates including one of the members of the Royal Family of Abu Dhabi. I’d like to develop that market more. The larger, top tier firms are developing markets in the Middle East and Asia and the Americas, and if we’re going to remain competitive, we have to have our sights firmly fixed on the global economy.”
Son Richard agrees: “It’s important we have a global presence in order to be competitive and to grow. It takes time, it’s not going to happen overnight but it’s happening. We’re developing a stable of clients from abroad now, including foreign governments, and we’re trying to grow that and leverage off it significantly. Australia is much loved in the Middle East, and Australian lawyers in are much more accepted than, say, American lawyers.”
Currently, the firm has ten to fifteen people on staff. “In the years ahead, a comfortable number after slow and safe growth, could be 50 to 100 people. Any bigger than that it starts to become a bit more corporate and it’s much harder to retain control over the direction of the company at that point,” observes Richard.
Rick believes law is a business like any other business. “It won’t survive unless it’s run like a business and Richard very effectively makes sure that it’s run like a business. In my pursuit of community affairs, I feel very comfortable this works well in combination with our other business affairs.”
Richard was obviously influenced by his father to go into law. Did he always think he was going to be a lawyer and were there any expectations? For Richard, the biggest challenge was to achieve the best possible HSC mark. “It was very, very difficult. I used to study 13, 14 hours a day, six days a week at least, just to get into the law degree. I was lucky enough to not have to worry about how I’m going to support myself, so I could focus on my studies. Most of my generation didn’t have to worry about that, which is in many ways a positive but can be a negative as well.”
Richard reports that Mitry Lawyers is a partnership in the formal sense, and he believes his father brings unique elements to the firm. “He has a lot of contacts which helped us get on our feet, and he certainly has the experience I didn’t have.”
As Richard notes, “Mitry Lawyers started in 2009, and there’s never been a time where we haven’t been run off our feet which is good. That doesn’t always equate to cash flow, because obviously sometimes you spend so much time doing the work and not worrying about the management side and we’re addressing that now. We don’t really advertise, and we’ve just been fortunate – hard work, but fortunate. You can work hard and not have that.”
Having practised at the bar most of his life, Rick comments “You could work as a barrister for years and years, and at the end of it you have nothing to pass on, you just have to walk away from it. That would have been a waste, particularly as Richard wanted to practise as a solicitor so I thought to myself perhaps I could use the networks and the experience I’d developed over the years. I’d handled a lot of common-law and then criminal law civil cases.”
Rick recalls, “Social justice was one of the reasons I got into law and I’ve got the luxury now of being able to pick and choose the cases I do myself, or other cases I might brief out. We recently ran cases against international figures or countries which came to us from the initial defense of a criminal client. I handled one or two cases which involved actions such as diplomatic corps staff against their governments. As a result, we were offered a lot more work at private international law level. Currently we’re doing two cases in that area; one for example, concerns Vanuatu, which is being sued as a nation by a syndicate in Singapore. I find that stimulating because Vanuatu’s going through enough problems at the moment, so my motivation is to stop any unfair attacks on them when they’re vulnerable.”
Both partners feel it’s the personal attention given to each client, regardless of their size, that has the firm standing apart. Clients range from large corporations to individuals funded by legal aid, or sometimes even pro bono. That client is given complete attention and that’s what resonates with them, generating word of mouth referrals to grow the business.
Rick believes when a legal practitioner reaches a certain level of practice, it’s important to turn their attention to social responsibility. “Every firm has got to develop a social conscience. We do that through our work with pro bono clients who have a worthwhile cause and would otherwise be disadvantaged by the lack of funds to prosecute cases. We’ll step in if we think it’s a justifiable case in which to do so.”
Over the longer term, Mitry Lawyers have been fostering an association with universities in order to facilitate young people coming through, as Richard explains. “We’re associated with various universities, and Macquarie University in particular. We’ve been developing a close connection with them both from the employment side as well as on the promotion of education and excellence. We sponsor two awards for the person who tops media law and criminal law. They’ll win the Mitry Lawyers Prize and receive a small cash reward as a result. Every year, at least one or two of those people will start working with us, sometimes before they finish their university degrees.”
Working with family members in the same company creates a unique dynamic. How do they work together within that relationship? Richard reports that their relationship at work is good. “We’ve developed it over the years. When we started it was just the two of us; that was different. We have very different working styles, but they complement each other.”
Rick admits at his age, to a degree, he has become fixed in his ways. “The new generation have different concepts about the way things should be done. I’m not a traditionalist, but it does take a bit to move me from my comfort zone I suppose. And that most likely happens in all family businesses.”
Richard respects his father’s years of experience and consequent wisdom: “It goes both ways, but Rick is very developed in his ways and I have to respect that. I have my own ideas and we both have different life experiences; the times are very different now and the way businesses run is very different, but there’s a lot to be said for the traditional ways of doing things as well.”
Have they looked so far ahead as to have a succession plan? Rick believes it’s all agreed; his son Richard will assume control. “Hopefully his younger brother will come into the law too.”
The duo shares some advice for young people starting a business, and Richard offers a cautionary observation. “For young people now, things come quickly, especially with social media and technology – it’s incredible. People expect things quickly, but when you start a new business nothing comes quickly. Everything, every little step, is painstaking and it can be hard, but you have to be patient. You can only do one thing at a time and that’s fundamentally important for a new business person. You need to stick with it, in order to overcome the bumps, and there are a lot of bumps in a new business.”
Rick agrees with his son. “Whether it’s in business or anything else, you should never let your fears get in the way of your dreams. If you want to do something, just go for it. But only go for it after you’ve planned and studied it, and decided you’re going to focus on it until you succeed, and you never give up. Never, never give up.”
Richard’s definition of success in business is based on the objective of being able to do what’s enjoyable. “To build something from nothing and then to get it to a point where you can enjoy it and, at the same time, be benefitting the people you ultimately serve, your clients.”
Rick chimes in; “Success for me revolves around satisfaction in having achieved the goals I set, and one of those goals is to help people who need assistance in my area of expertise. There’s nothing more satisfying than seeing the relief on people’s faces after the case is finished, and it’s come out in a way they’d hoped. That’s my definition of success, not so much monetary measures.”
When asked who he respects, Rick is quick to answer. “In my mind, Abraham Lincoln was one of the greatest leaders this world has seen. His consideration for people across the board was amazing. As for his perseverance; he never gave up. He stood for Parliament eight times and every time he lost, until finally he was elected President of the United States. That’s determination, and he was caring for those who suffered injustices. In terms of current figures, a senior lawyer who retired a long time ago always supported me in my time of need, and I’m supporting him in his time of need now, in a nursing home.”
Richard’s answer to the same question centres on someone much more his contemporary and closer to him personally. “The person I respect most in so many ways is my own dad. He can be stubborn sometimes, but no matter what he says, it’s always respected. And it’s helped in many ways with this business.”
Richard cites this example of his father’s skill and care. “We had a case against the kingdom of Saudi Arabia representing the family of Peter Greste, the imprisoned journalist, which we won in the High Court. It was very much my dad’s project, and he guided them, step by step, through that whole very unfortunate time in their lives.”
One of the areas Richard handles is Media Law. “We’ve had a lot of high-profile cases. Defamation often attracts a very high-profile. Rick’s always done a lot of television interviews. I also work for a network now every couple of weeks, and I enjoy that. I always feel a sense of invigoration afterwards, just from all the energy in the room.”
Richard is very grateful for the business development role Rick still plays. “Having Rick out there practising and meeting clients takes a big burden from me, particularly because he’s always been the rainmaker, going out to bring work into the firm. I’m doing that a lot more now obviously, but when we first started I was way too junior to do that.”
Maintaining a work-life balance and promoting that culture is important. “Sometimes if the work’s got to be done, you don’t have a choice, but generally I don’t like people staying here late.” says Richard. “It’s quite standard in some firms for you to be there till 10, 11, 12, or 1 in the morning every night, five or six days a week. More likely I’ll leave at 6 or 6:30pm, as do the others and occasionally we’re here until 8pm. This is especially important for Dad; he lives how he wants to live now, which he should after working for over 40 years.”
The respect between the generations is clear and this family business is clearly harnessing the best each generation has to offer.
- “You should never let your fears get in the way of your dreams.”
- “We’ve taken on banks in a case which almost ballooned into a class action and may well still.”
- “Every firm has got to develop a social conscience, and we do that through our work with pro bono clients.”
- “Working with family members in the same company creates a unique dynamic.”
Family businesses can sometimes be tricky, but father and son lawyers Rick and Richard Mitry make the perfect team, complementing each other and taking on high-profile cases. They have a great passion for justice and they love nothing more than winning, whether it’s international law or a simple local pro bono case.