The minute I walk into Koutzoumis Lawyers at Beverly Hills in south Sydney, I can instantly tell the foundations of the law firm are built on hard work and family.
Owner, Gary Koutzoumis, is stationed upstairs, working long hours. He answers phone calls both in Greek and English, meets with clients, and dishes out legal advice on personal injury law cases in his typical direct manner.
Downstairs, you’ll find Gary’s long-term secretary, solicitors and senior legal consultants. Running around them all, and always with a smile on her face, is Gary’s wife of 25 years – Anna.
“She does everything. She’s my practice manager, she’s a HR manager, she’s the accounts manager, she’s staff first-aid, she’s the whole lot. She runs the show downstairs. I would never tell her to her face though,” Gary says with a cheeky grin.
With this dry sense of humour and the clear support of his family and staff, it’s no surprise Koutzoumis Lawyers is celebrating its milestone 20th anniversary this year.
‘Destined to do something for myself’:
Born in Australia in 1974 to Greek parents from the island of Lemnos, Gary was the youngest of three children. He has an older sister, Margaret, and a brother, Alex, who had an intellectual disability and passed away last year.
Gary says he always had a passion for the law from a young age, but it wasn’t always easy. He had to juggle his law studies at the University of Sydney and a job as a law clerk at Clayton Utz, whilst helping his dad at the Flemington Markets in Sydney.
“Picture this…” Gary begins as he thinks back to those early days.
“I would get up at about 1.30am, five days a week. I would go to the markets and work there until about 6am. I would come home, shower, get into my suit, go to Clayton Utz and start work at 9am until 5pm.
“After work, I’d get on a bus, go to Sydney Uni, do my lectures from 6pm to 9pm. My father would be waiting for me outside Sydney Uni and he would take me home. I would get changed, have a shower, have something to eat and go to bed by about 10.30pm. Then I’m up again at 1.30am to do it all again. For seven years straight.”
It was hard work, but it definitely paid off.
Gary completed his studies and after working at Clayton Utz for about three years, he moved onto other legals roles at the NSW Land and Environment Court, Papanicolaou & Antoniou, and PK Simpson and Co.
In the end, Gary decided it was time for a change.
“I was destined to do something for myself. I thought, ‘I can’t work for somebody for the rest of my life’,” he explains.
The Greek Herald connection:
In August 2003, Koutzoumis Lawyers was born in Beverley Hills.
A few months later, Gary met the late publisher of The Greek Herald, Theodore Skalkos, and the rest, as they say, was history.
“I was introduced to Theo at his office in Glebe. We hit it off. He liked me, I liked him. I thought he was nuts, he thought I was more nuts and then I became his go-to legal advisor,” Gary says with a fond laugh.
“From that time until today, you will note that my ad has never not been in The Greek Herald – day in, day out, for 20 years.
“Everyone who comes here says, ‘I’ve seen you in the newspaper.’ That’s where the name became popular.”
Since then, Koutzoumis Lawyers has grown substantially. The firm is celebrating 20 years with close to 20,000 clients on its records. They started off with zero.
“It’s grown because we’ve obviously done something right. A lot of repeat clients. I’m fair. I’m reasonable. I’m straight to the point. I’ll tell you exactly how it is. I won’t tell you what you want to hear, I’ll just tell you straight out what needs to be done,” Gary says.
‘Without him I wouldn’t be here’:
In the same no-nonsense attitude, Gary adds that the key to his success was also strongly tied to his Greek parents and a “significant turning point” in 2012.
At the time, Gary was renting a building in Beverly Hills but he was looking to buy a property in the area and find a permanent home for Koutzoumis Lawyers. In a stroke of luck, the building at 518 King Georges Road (where the firm currently resides) went up for sale in January 2012.
“My father had been diagnosed with cancer in the months before. He wasn’t well. I spoke to him about it because he was my go-to mentor. I asked him what I should do and his attitude was, ‘you’ve got to buy it, you’ve got to bite the bullet’,” Gary explains.
“It was the Australia Day long weekend so everyone was on holidays, there were no banks open. I panicked and thought, ‘I don’t have the deposit sitting around in my back pocket. Where am I going to find the money to secure this building?’
“My father, without any prodding from me, got in his car, as sick as he was, and he drove to the real estate agent and paid the deposit. That secured the purchase of this building.”
Two months later, Gary’s father passed away.
“I had a massive sign on top of my office that actually said ‘In loving memory of the late Stelios Koutzoumis’ because without him, I would never, ever have bought this building,” Gary says passionately.
And what a shame that would’ve been.
Gary’s hard work and dedication to his clients and firm is apparent in everything he does. The five-star Google Reviews also attest to his passion with words such as “highly recommended” and “phenomenal” used frequently.
When I ask him what this all means to him and how it feels to be celebrating the 20th anniversary of Koutzoumis Lawyers this year, he answers in his typical cheeky way.
“It feels old,” he says with a laugh.
“At the end of the day I believe that to a great extent, if it wasn’t for my parents, I probably wouldn’t be here today at the level that I’m at. I think that, coupled with the support of my clients and the loyalty of my clients, has produced the result today.
“I have to say thank you to them… I have no regrets.”