FACILITYCalgary publisher Mark Kolke, in conversation with Robert Hawkes
February 26, 2013
I met with Robert (Rob) Hawkes the other day. Over coffee in the board room at his law firm Jensen Shawa Solomon Duguid Hawkes LLP I was entertained by somebody many might expect would be somewhat dull, predictable ….a 20 yr. lawyer in Calgary, litigator, oil & gas, class action specialist . . .
I expected a younger guy – not so much in years, but in attitude. Not that I would call him stodgy, but I found him to be much more complex than I expected. While we weren’t rolling in laughter, I was thoroughly and completely entertained.
I had assured him I wasn’t going to ask him about his ex-wife (Alison Redford) or his firm’s legal work for the Government of Alberta in its action against the tobacco industry (others in his firm are involved). I wanted to know about those things – of course I did – but that wasn’t my focus. After all, if his ex-wife picked him as the best man to head up her transition team when she won the Premier’s job, there must be something to what skills he had to go with his obvious and well known political connections.
But I was curious/nosy enough to ask …. I wanted to know how they met – he and Alison. Both were living in Calgary and involved in Ron Ghitter’s unsuccessful PC party leadership campaign in 1985. I’m sure our paths must have crossed because, living in Edmonton in those days, I too was working on the Ghitter campaign – and I recall some friendships made in those times being sealed with zeal and high emotion from working for a cause, ultimately losing, but feeling in defeat, that we had won something important in the fight.
I was interested to know what is was like to grow up as his father’s (Jim Hawkes, former U of C professor, shaker/mover in the Joe Clark government, former MP for Calgary West) son. I was much more interested in knowing what makes him tick – to explore a Master level teen sensation in teen years, a stand-up comedian in his spare time and how those skills/inclinations connect to his area of specialty – class action lawsuits.
I was not disappointed. The obvious, I suppose, is that chess skills are math skills, are strategy skills - but how does comedy figure into that mix?
I asked Rob how he sees his market, in his business, over the next 90 days?
… continued growth in class actions.
. . . and over the next 5 years?
… trend toward self-represented litigation is, and will continue log-jamming the courts. The pendulum will swing back again.
What trends do you see in you area of law practice?
. . . In 2003 the law changed in Alberta (Class Proceeding Act) changed the landscape, offering a better way of going after someone who has done something wrong
What do you lose sleep over, what do you worry about?
. . . macro-economic view of what is happening in Alberta – because it affects the future and therefore impacts way of life for my kids. I’ve had a lucky life and want my kids to have the best opportunity for a future here, in Alberta.
. . . none
Work/life balance – what is at the core of it for you?
. . . doing things my kids like to do. Poker, stand-up comedy, politics, snorkeling. My wife is a life coach. We fit well.
What qualities, looking back, have distinguished your preferred suppliers, partners and employees?
. . . reliability and excellence. Price is secondary.
What qualities do your clients look for in you, in your firm, that distinguishes you or sets you apart from your competitors?
. . . reliability and value. I think clients come to me most for strategic advice, which should not be confused with tactics, but about what the plan should be, and why. I’ve been involved in lots of high-level disputes in oil and gas. In this business a win/loss ratio has a lot to do with the cases that come through the door. Facts deliver success as much as the lawyer!
Chess – where did that interest come from and where did it take you?
. . . my dad got me started at age 5 and I got very seriously involved at 15 at the Ottawa Chess Club. I loved it, and was good at it. I achieved National Master Title at 17, achieved the FIDE Master title at 19. I won the Alberta Closed Championship 6 years in a row from 1979-85. I played professionally from 18-23. I was strong in math . . .
Best achievements and highlights in your chess life?
. . . I finished 3rd in the Canadian National Closed. Competing on a stage in London in 1984 … at the next table, behind me, Boris Spasky was playing.
You background in academia, chess, politics and law – how did you get interested in doing stand-up comedy?
. . . always a big fan of stand-up. I bought a book and thought, I can do this. I tried out on an open-mike night at Yuk-Yuks and did poorly, but I kept trying. I haven’t done much lately but did it quite actively, mostly touring around Alberta and Saskatchewan performing on weekends for 13 years. Most surprising considering I never thought people would find me funny.
Why is that .. that people wouldn’t find you funny?
. . . I’d worked in government, accustomed to people taking me seriously – and being introduced as a lawyer has you starting in a hole, in terms of comedy so I avoided politics and law in my material.
On how Canada is being run, on party politics, on Mr. Harper’s government – any thoughts to share?
. . . I know the Prime Minister personally though we haven’t talked in some time. I would be happier if the party was more open, a more democratic vehicle. I’m not a fan of tightly controlled candidate nomination processes. It should be more open. People think I’m really involved in politics, which isn’t true. I’ve worked on some projects from time to time but mostly I’m just a constituent in Calgary North Centre.
What are you reading?
. . . In The Garden Of Beasts, a novel by Erik Larson, and a travel book on Kuaui, The North Shore
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