Editor’s Note: The following story appeared in the March 2 issue of the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal. “Then & Now” is a profile of a past member of the Business Journal’s Forty Under 40 class.
In the past decade, Rebecca Hurst’s career has been marked by significant change, both personally and professionally.
Hurst, 40, is the managing partner of Smith Hurst, a regional business law and private wealth law firm in Rogers. She started the business with Jim Smith in the summer of 2011, one year after the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal honored her as a member of its 2010 Forty Under 40 class.
The two of them had previously worked at Friday, Eldredge & Clark in Fayetteville. Smith was one of two attorneys dispatched from central Arkansas to open the Little Rock-based law firm’s Fayetteville office in 2000. He later hired Hurst in 2004 after she had graduated from the University of Arkansas School of Law.
Earning a law degree capped a significant pivot for Hurst, sending her on a new career path. Her previous job was as a corporate accountant working for Beverly Enterprises, then a publicly traded nursing home company located in Fort Smith.
In a recent sitdown in the Smith Hurst offices on the eighth floor of the Hunt Tower, Hurst recalled the motivation behind the law firm’s origin nearly nine years ago. It was inspired, she said, by the idea that has spurred several successful endeavors throughout the region — free enterprise.
“We represented so many entrepreneurs, and there is such an entrepreneurial spirit in this community,” she said. “It gets contagious. We both knew it was something we wanted to do. Even as a kid, Jim had wanted to own a law firm at some point. When the opportunity arose, it made perfect sense to us.”
Smith Hurst started in downtown Fayetteville with an office on Dickson Street. In March 2017, the firm opened a satellite office at Hunt Tower. By the end of the year, the Dickson Street office closed, and Smith Hurst moved all its attorneys and staff to Rogers full time.
“The center of business [in Northwest Arkansas] has gravitated north,” Hurst said. “When we opened this office, we were getting what felt like a [new] matter each day coming in. We felt like we needed to be here full time.”
Smith Hurst’s practice areas include business and corporate law, mergers and acquisitions, real estate, intellectual property law, tax, asset protection and estate planning. The firm has four attorneys, with a fifth set to join the office this summer.
Hurst, who earned her master’s in taxation from New York University School of Law in 2006, began her legal practice in estate planning. It’s still a primary portion of her work, working with family offices and charitable organizations of some of Arkansas’ highest net worth individuals and families. She has also helped grow Smith Hurst’s reputation as a sought-after business law firm by playing a critical role in many different business transactions, including mergers and acquisitions.
She said there’s no secret to building and then maintaining strong attorney-client relationships — being available and being authentic.
“I got a great compliment the other day from a client. We helped sell his business and work with him on some other things,” Hurst said. “He said, ‘What sold me on your firm was I know you guys are so busy, but you make me feel like I’m your only client.’ That’s what I think is important. Letting clients know that you understand and appreciate them.”
Like other busy professionals with heavy workloads, attorneys often have difficulty separating their personal and professional lives. In May 2018, those paths became connected for Hurst — she and Smith got married.
“We’ve always had a trusting relationship, which is important if you’re in business together,” she said. “We’re the best of friends, and that’s blossomed and grown into a great relationship.”
Hurst said she loves being a “bonus” mom to Smith’s boys. The oldest is a freshman at the University of Washington, and the youngest is a sophomore at Fayetteville High School.
Hurst has been named a Mid-South Super Lawyer each year since 2012. She’s also a longtime adjunct legal professor at the UA in Fayetteville.
She sits on several boards, including the Corporate Leadership Council for the Walton Arts Center. Hurst received the Outstanding Young Alumni Award in 2018 by the University of Arkansas Fort Smith Alumni Council. In 2019, Gov. Asa Hutchinson appointed her to the Advisory Council of the Arkansas Arts Council.