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Weekly Conversation: Attorney Jhenerr Hines has been venturing out on her own since grade school

Jhenerr Hines is an attorney in Tampa and a native of Jamaica. [Courtesy of Jhenerr Hines]
Jhenerr Hines is an attorney in Tampa and a native of Jamaica. [Courtesy of Jhenerr Hines]
Published Jul. 29, 2019

Jhenerr Hines started her own business in elementary school.

Living in rural Montego Bay, Jamaica, she invested her lunch money in snacks that she could resell for a profit at school.

"That's how I got my first pair of jeans and my first cute, little Kangol hat. I thought that was the most fashionable thing that had ever been made in history."

Although her parents never attended college, she knew she wanted more from life. She was hosting her own cable television show by the time she left Jamaica to attend Bethune-Cookman University.

After graduating from Stetson Law, working as a clerk for the federal public defender's office while still in law school, and catching on with the Michael Maddox firm, she decided four years ago to step out on her own with Tampa Advocate Law.

Hines, 30, recently spoke with Tampa Bay Times columnist Ernest Hooper about hanging her own shingle, going paperless in her office, and working in criminal defense.

How much courage did it take for you to leave a firm and hang your own shingle.

It actually wasn't as hard as people might think. At the time, I had a few friends from law school who had just started their own firms. I had lawyers in the community who were either on that path or had just done it. So, I had a lot of encouragement. I had a lot of help. I had a lot of people who I would call and say, 'How do you do this?' The other thing is I gave myself a lot of time to prepare. I made sure that my expenses were zero before I went out on my own. I made sure that I had a system for how I was going to get cases and how I was going to manage those cases. So, I had a plan. I completely knew what I was getting myself into before I started.

Did you think, 'It's all on me? I've got to hustle, I've got to make it. I can't turn to the firm or anyone else.'

Absolutely. And that's why I thought about it for a long time before I did it and that was the main reason why. I knew if I didn't make money one month, I would have to ask, 'How am I going to pay my mortgage? How am I going to pay for my meals? How am I going to pay my bills?' Even after having my law firm, there were times when the phone didn't ring for a couple of days and I'm like, 'What's going on? Am I doing something wrong?'

Were you checking to see if the phone was working?

Right, right. I'm like, is this it? Is this how it all ends? Do I need to go look for a job now? There are times when I thought this might be easier if I was just working for somebody else, you know, and I didn't have to worry about the business and paying the taxes and needing a paralegal. But now I'm in my fourth year, and honestly, I don't think I could go work for someone else.

You have taken your firm paperless. Was that a difficult decision?

No, not at all. I started my business on my own with no partners. So, when I first started, I was doing everything myself. Every paper that had to be filed, every piece of research that had to be done, everything, I'm doing on my own. What I found was that I was spending a lot of time doing the same things over and over.

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And as a solo practitioner, time is you most valuable commodity.

Absolutely. Time is money. Literally. That was what started me on that journey, just a realization there has to be an easier way to do this. From there, I started looking around to see what solutions are available. I've tried a lot of them. Some of them are better than others. A lot are created to be cookie cutter for everybody or for everybody in the legal industry, but they didn't necessarily suit me for my practice. So, I started to create my own. I use a lot of software that's built for other industries. For example, the sales industry, it's very innovative.

You specialize in criminal defense. I would think at times you have clients who are guilty but still entitled to a defense. How do you balance that?

That is actually not a big concern for me, and here's why: I am a true believer in this system. I don't think it's infallible, but I believe that the legal system that we have here in the United States is built beautifully. I believe that if you have a good prosecutor and you have a good defense attorney and everything is done right under the Constitution, that somewhere in the middle, the truth will come out.

So, if I have a client who is guilty, it doesn't matter that he's guilty. It matters whether he can be proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. And if he can't, then that's not my fault. That is a product of either poor investigation or a violation of his constitutional rights or just not having enough evidence. I don't think that's my position to judge whether this person should be punished or not. I am an actor in a part of a larger system.

So, you trust the system?

If they aren't able to prove him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, maybe they'll be able to get more evidence, or maybe they'll be able to get him on a different case. But that's not my concern. My concern is providing the best legal representation for the facts and circumstances that we have in this particular case. I also believe, like I said, if you have a good prosecutor, if you have police officers doing their jobs and doing it the correct way, following all the rules and, you know, abiding by the Constitution, then if a client is guilty, it should be a judge and the jury making the decision.

What are you hoping to achieve in the next five years, 10 years?

I would like to grow to the point where I can be the go-to firm for any area of law. Any legal issue you have, you know, you can call me and you will be taken care of.

What do you love most about being an attorney?

I love the variety. I love the intellectual challenge of it and being able to be creative and come up with solutions for clients. Arguments in court. People think of being a lawyer as being kind of boring, but it's a job of creativity and that's what I love about it.