Kenneth Hayne is not known to dwell on a point, his colleagues say. It's is a good thing, too, because he doesn't have much time.
The man charged withthe royal commission into banking and financial services - the largest investigation in the history of Australia's biggest industry - has just 12 months to get to the bottom of a sector that has spent the last decade defending allegations of unconscionable conduct.
Quick-witted and a prodigious worker, Hayne kept a low profile during his almost two decades on the High Court, before stepping down in 2015.
"He has chosen to stay out of the limelight," says the Zelman Cowen Professor of Law at the University of Melbourne, Michael Crommelin, who has known Hayne for 30 years.
Hayne, 72, is spending the Christmas break gearing up for what will be the most public outing of his career.
Not that the size of the task will daunt him. "I am all in favour of the legal profession running a seven-day week, but others may have a different view," he quipped in 2014.
Asked for an interview for this profile, Hayne's response typifies his reluctance to embrace the spotlight. He won't be giving any comments to the media.
But the barristers briefed to appear for the banks will be bracing for some very public - and robust - exchanges with Hayne during the commission's hearings.
A Sydney silk said Hayne, a former Rhodes scholar, is "super intelligent" but could be "rude" and "very dismissive" of barristers in court. "If he heard an argument he didn't like he would actually turn his chair around," the silk said.
Many of these exchanges have gained a cult following on the Tumblr blog "Shitjudgessay", whichbears the tongue-in-cheek claim it is run by former High Court justice William Gummow. Famous for what former chief justice Robert French termed his "devastating questions" to counsel, Hayne was fond of telling barristers they should be wary of the "knife in the napkin", or that it would be "unwise to go back into the lion's den to recover one's hat".
In 1997, former prime minister John Howard was looking for a judge to settle what was seen as an increasingly activist High Court, after former chief justice Sir Anthony Mason declared "the protection of individual rights is better left in the hands of judges than it is in the hands of politicians" three years earlier.
He appointed Hayne, a QC and highly regarded Victorian Court of Appeal judge, in September that year.
Two decades later, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Treasurer Scott Morrison and Financial Services Minister Kelly O'Dwyer turned to Hayne to placate activists of a different kind. They asked him to lead the banking inquiry they didn't want but couldn't avoid.
But Hayne has never been a stooge of the government. In 2014, he delivered a dissenting judgment after 157 Tamil asylum seekers were held by the Australian navy at sea, and would have allowed them to seek damages from the Commonwealth.
"He is a jurist of impeccable standing, and I would have thought he would have been completely unchallenged in his suitability for the role," says Morrison, who was the immigration minister when the asylum seekers were intercepted. "If you can pick him on your team you will."
In fact, Hayne has taken on the banks before. He was one of three judges to order Westpac to pay a $50,000 fine for dishonouring 30 rent cheques sent by a real ??estate agent from Auburn in Sydney's west, "to hold banks responsible to their customers not only in contract, but also for damage to reputation".
He has been on the other side of the fence as a barrister too, helping the Bank of Melbourne settle a $65 million sale of two life insurance companies.
But this latest task is much bigger, and will require Hayne to choose what to cover in the limited time available, under very broad terms of reference that will include not only the banks, but superannuation funds, mortgage brokers and pay-day lenders as well.
Ben Whitwell, a commercial lawyer at Slater and Gordon, says the inclusion of pay-day lenders and mortgage brokers is a "double-edged sword".
"The greater scope hasn't been met with an increase in time for the commissioner to carry out inquiries in those additional areas," he says. "[A year] is a manifestly inadequate amount of time to give proper consideration to the lens of the inquiry."
Those familiar with Hayne's work ethic have no such doubts.
"I've seen outstanding barristers in action and have been very impressed by their capacity to extract what really matters from crushing amounts of material; Ken has developed that skill to an exceptional level, both at the bar and in the High Court," Crommelin says.
Former royal commissioner Neville Owen, who led the 2001 investigation into the failure of HIH, believes the tight time frame can be an advantage.
"It causes you to focus your mind and get on with the job," Owen said in December. "There comes a time when the findings you make and the report you make are too distant from the problems that have arisen to be of any real use."
Professor Cheryl Saunders, who has worked with Hayne for several years, says he would have thought very seriously before agreeing to take on the commission and how he could serve the public interest.
"I imagine that each of the main protagonists will be trying to protect their patch. This may be the biggest challenge; trying to cut through the thicket of representations to the commission," she says.
"He strongly believes in the value of law and the legal system, and has a very structural approach to problem-solving. He likes to see the big picture."
When Hayne retired from the High Court in June 2015, after 18 years on the bench, he was replaced by his wife and former Federal Court judge Michelle Gordon.
Both Gordon and Hayne continued to teach, sometimes together, at the University of Melbourne while they were on the bench and still do so today, after Hayne also took the unusual step of returning to practice as a barrister after leaving the High Court.
"When people leave the bench they don't want to become hermits, they want to continue to mix with the people in their field," says Saunders.
"It's a real labour of love," adds Crommelin.
But the phalanx of QCs set to appear before the royal commission should not expect any hand-holding.
Victorian barrister James Peters, QC, a former president of the Victorian Bar, says he appeared before Hayne in a number of cases in the Victorian Supreme Court.
He says he was "very generous" to junior lawyers and championed diversity in the profession.
"He wasn't terrifying, [but] he was to the point," Peters says. "You're unwise to dwell too long on a point that's already accepted, or not a good one."
In one of many exchanges with former solicitor-general Justin Gleeson, SC, Hayne warned: "If you sit on the fence too long, Mr Solicitor, it becomes deeply uncomfortable."
In another instance he asked prominent NSW barrister Bret Walker, SC: "What exactly are we meant to do with the last three minutes of your submissions?
"Can I tell you what I take from it?" he continued. "That if there is an elephant in the room we are not to look at it."
Peters says Hayne is "definitely his own man - it's neither wise nor possible to dictate to him".
He has a long history with the banking sector as a barrister, a QC and then a Victorian Supreme Court and Court of Appeal judge, prior to his appointment to the High Court.
"As a judge, you deal with the top end of banking disputes but you also deal with the consumer issues: should someone pay under a guarantee, when does conduct involve unconscionable reliance on strict legal rights," says Peters. "He is one of the leading experts in the country on large-scale systemic problems in banking, and also issues facing individual consumers of banking products. He's an excellent choice."