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  1. Wealth
  2. Tax
September 8, 2020updated 09 Sep 2020 10:07am

Spear’s Tax & Trust Advisers Index: Top Ten Lawyers

By Spear's

Each year the Spear’s Research Unit updates its index of leading Tax & Trust advisers with data supplied by firms, peer-reviews, in-depth research and dozens of interviews. Here, we profile our top ten tax & trust lawyers 

Robert Brodrick, Payne Hicks Beach

Outstanding in field
Firm size: UK
Focus: Middle East UHNW

‘Our work continues regardless,’ says Robert Brodrick, carrying a soothing sense of stability during his catch-up with Spear’s despite the pandemic.

‘What we’re dealing with is [a mix of] personal matters that concern human relationships, and things that really aren’t always linked to the economy,’ he says. When private clients are ‘feeling vulnerable’, they scrutinise their personal affairs and pick up their phone to trusted advisers like him. However, market volatility has also concerned Brodrick’s financially sophisticated clients, who were reviewing portfolios and considering gifting options since valuations fell across sectors.

Brodrick, a fixture in our top ten, relishes his role as chair of Payne Hicks Beach’s management board – a position of considerable eminence in his field. But he is still very much client-facing, and his practice continues to include a Middle Eastern specialism.

When asked about the mobility of international HNWs, he says ‘the rules are now so complicated’ that regardless of whether one is considering a move to or away from the UK, careful, considered legal advice is still needed.

But overall, the UK still remains attractive to a segment of global society due to its rule of law, schools and ‘geographic proximity to all the places they want to be’. Brodrick started off at Withers before joining Trowers & Hamlins in 2004. In 2012 he moved to Payne Hicks Beach with a small team

Russell Cohen, Farrer & Co

Outstanding in field
Firm Size: UK
Focus: International UHNW families

Even clients with access to private jets are still reluctant to travel, reports affable Farrer partner Russell Cohen.

‘They’re sitting at home, talking to their loved ones, their family offices – and they’re getting on with things.’ That means meetings which might have previously been scheduled four weeks in advance in, say, Zurich, can take place immediately.

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‘Now,’ says Cohen, ‘it’s a case of “Let’s have a call tonight”.’ Increasingly, he says, ‘Clients understand that life’s not about avoiding tax.’ That’s just as well, since the UK government faces a challenge if it’s to balance the public finances.

‘I don’t think they’ll do that with austerity,’ says Cohen. ‘I think they’ll do it with taxes – and I don’t think there’ll be anyone lining up to defend the wealthy from these taxes. ‘I also think there will be a renewed appetite for transparency. I don’t think the post-pandemic world will have much sympathy for someone who says “I want privacy”, because of the clear value of the importance of raising tax.’

One of his clients has a trust in a jurisdiction which requires personal information to be stored on a register, which isn’t disclosable unless it’s in the public interest.

‘This is the kind of example where someone’s idea of what is in the public interest now might be different from a few years ago,’ says Cohen. ‘Someone described it to me as an “evolution of stigma”. Overnight there’s been a groundswell of opinion.’

Jonathan Conder, Macfarlanes

Eminence grise
Firm size: International
Focus: Global entrepreneurs, families

Jonathan Conder is one of the longest-standing partners at Macfarlanes. His role is dedicated to developing the international tax and trust arena for the business in Europe, the Middle East and Latin America, but with the Far East as a focus for expansion.

‘I act for individuals, trustees and families where there is a cross-border element,’ says Conder. ‘The bulk of my practice is for people whose homes, assets or families are partly in one jurisdiction and partly in one or more others. More often than not they have a UK connection.’

His clients are typically entrepreneurial first-generation wealth creators, but he has been in the business long enough to see clients through the process of passing on their wealth to children.

Conder is helping one family office change jurisdiction – a decision driven not by price, but by reputation and disclosure.

‘There is a flight to quality,’ he says. ‘I’d rather get the client to pay a bit more to be in a jurisdiction with a higher reputation that is accepted by the global financial community.’ He cites the Bahamas as one offshore financial centre that has been burned by failing to ‘clean itself up’. ‘I love doing business there,’ he says. ‘But I am worried about the number of structures that are leaving.

Sophie Dworetzsky, Charles Russell Speechlys

Outstanding in field
Firm size: International
Focus: International, entrepreneurial HNWs

It’s close to a year since Sophie Dworetzsky’s move from Withers to Charles Russell Speechlys, and Spear’s checks in to see how she’s faring.

‘I’m really pleased,’ she enthuses, confirming that she continues to work with an international and commercial private client base, largely made up of entrepreneurs, business owners and high-performing fund managers.

Joining the firm has unlocked a new specialism for her too, as she has been focusing on family office structuring ‘in greater depth and detail’. The dynamic tax landscape has made Dworetzsky highlight a number of important issues HNWs must consider before setting up a family office.

‘Think about the tax efficiency from both an ownership stake and from a remuneration stake – how will the [managers] be incentivised? Will it be standard salary and bonus or will it be a carry structure?’

Meanwhile, she points out the possibility of tax rises in the near future ‘to pay for the £357 billion black hole’ that the Covid-19 crisis will leave behind. It’s a fine balance, she adds, between ‘the political aspect of how to make it palatable, the question of how to actually raise the right amount of money, and how do you also do that while maintaining the tax competitiveness of the UK?’.

Ceris Gardner, Maurice Turnor Gardner

Eminence grise
Firm size: Boutique
Focus: International families

A mainstay of the Spear’s indices over the years and one of the most recognisable names in the world of tax, Ceris Gardner is as well equipped as anyone in the industry when it comes to issues of immigration and philanthropy.

Spear’s catches up with Gardner over the phone, where she reports that the transition to working from home has gone ‘beautifully’. Like many in the profession, she notes that the onset of lockdown brought with it a raft of work on wills and lasting power of attorney.

‘That was the start of the whole thing, and then it sort of morphed into people settling into meeting after meeting on Zoom,’ she says with a laugh.

One of the effects Covid-19 might have, she adds, is people thinking more about estate planning: ‘This has been a real scare to people of all ages.’

Gardner is also seeing pent-up demand from clients who are looking to ‘firm up their plans and actually come to the UK, take advantage of our remittance basis of taxation for non-domiciled individuals’. Given the changes to visa requirements for EU nationals, Gardner notes that we could also see a ‘bit of a rush’ on things like investor visas, too. ‘I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see a surge of people looking to come to the UK,’ she says. ‘They’ll need tax planning advice and succession planning.’

Bart Peerless, Charles Russell Speechlys

Outstanding in field
Firm size: International
Focus: Succession & estate planning

‘When unexpected events happen, clients reach for their trusted advisers,’ Bart Peerless tells Spear’s. ‘A global pandemic makes people stop and think, “Do I need to dust down that succession plan?” It makes clients reflect and think about the future – they will very often want to talk to their private client lawyer.’

Many of Charles Russell Speechlys’ top-tier clients seek the advice of this sage partner, who has more than 25 years of experience in the business. Peerless advises HNWs, trustees and beneficiaries as well as ‘some of the world’s wealthiest’ and most complex families – a typical client has assets in the ‘multi-billion’ or ‘multi-hundred million’ range.

There is a definite trend towards more multi-jurisdictional work for complicated assets, he notes. ‘Even traditional UK families increasingly face questions about domicile and residency, not least as people marry more widely.’

Peerless has been heading the firm’s private client division for seven years, but 2021 signals an end to his term, and he welcomes the prospect of a return to more client-facing work.

‘Communication really sits at the heart of it,’ he says, when asked what is important in tax and trust advice. Alongside technical excellence, he says it is crucial that one is ‘able to reach out to people and take them with you – and understand what motivates them’.

James Quarmby, Stephenson Harwood

Outstanding in field
Firm size: International
Focus: Complex private wealth

Spear’s checks in with James Quarmby, Stephenson Harwood’s head of private wealth, who makes time for a call during ‘an extremely busy’ period for his practice and the firm’s international offices.

‘Hong Kong is back to normal, the Dubai office is reopened… Singapore’s good to go,’ he says, adding that the London office is facing ‘all that pent-up demand’ in relation to real estate investments amid Covid-19.

‘In times of turbulence, high-net-worth clients want to talk to their lawyers…they’re often switching around their investment policies, they’re moving cash around internationally and they want tax or legal advice,’ Quarmby says.

Lockdown boredom and lower-priced assets have contributed to increased transactions too. ‘The clever ones are saying, “Well, OK, this is a horrible time, [there are] all sorts of problems, but you know, we can’t waste a good crisis.”’

Will the government introduce a wealth tax to pay for Covid-19? ‘I don’t think it’s in their blood,’ he tells us. ‘But the golden goose, though, is pensions, isn’t it?’

He points to how George Osborne ‘stripped away’ the idea that you’re limited to taking an annuity. ‘Everyone thought he turned into a socialist, but actually it’s a purely capitalist move – if you allow people to take as much as they like from their pension, it accelerates the tax charge. Fiddling around with the non-doms and all that sort of stuff is just crumbs.’

Clare Stirzaker, PwC

Outstanding in field
Firm size: International
Focus: Governance, tax & succession planning

Clare Stirzaker spearheads PwC’s ‘growing’ private client legal practice, where she looks after UHNW clients with complex estate planning, cross-border inheritance and tax matters.

She is lauded for combining financial nous acquired at Barclays’ international wealth arm with legal knowledge honed at Baker McKenzie.

As a result, she is known for helping families design the right long-term structures. She joined PwC to ‘work within a broader consultancy firm where I could develop both my legal and non-legal skills’. Stirzaker says lockdown has pushed succession matters ‘up the agenda’ for families, resulting in an influx of enquiries.

‘Families are starting to recognise that you can’t necessarily have one will to deal with all the different assets in different countries,’ she says, and there have been ‘a lot more virtual workshops and one-on-one discussions’ with families.

Next-gen discussions are popular too, she adds, citing a recent case where a family made the children directors of various companies but then discovered that they ‘don’t really understand what it means to be a director’.

She guided them on how to create more control over the situation. ‘The families are really welcoming that because they’re conscious that they don’t do that sort of work. The risk is something happens to the parents and the children are not ready to take over, and the wealth isn’t stable.’

Camilla Wallace, Wedlake Bell

Outstanding in field
Firm size: International
Focus: Landed estates & offshore

She might have been working from home, but Wedlake Bell’s head of private client group Camilla Wallace has not stood still during lockdown. ‘We’re as busy as ever,’ she tells Spear’s. ‘Most of our clients have been reviewing their estate planning and housekeeping, making sure that everything is up to date and in order,’ says Wallace, who also sits on the firm’s board.

A ‘tragic and heartbreaking’ aspect of lockdown has been an uptick in ‘Covid estates’ and probate work, too. As if that wasn’t enough to fill an agenda, she’s also juggling ‘a dozen or so’ relocations in preparation for the 2021/22 tax year.

‘London may have had a high Covid rate, but it hasn’t put people off in the long term,’ she says. The issues that clients were concerned about ‘post-Corbyn and pre-Covid’ – estate planning and succession planning – are now being looked at with a ‘lot more focus’.

‘With depressed values comes an opportunity to hand assets and wealth over to the next generation,’ she observes. Another trend is international investors ‘coming in and making a play’ for distressed purchases.

There are opportunities in industries such as hospitality, she notes. ‘For those that have the money and have a long-term view, you can pick up a bargain.’

Nick Warr, Taylor Wessing

Outstanding in field
Firm size: International
Focus: Top-tier finance professionals

The head of the international private wealth group at Taylor Wessing, Nick Warr, has had a busy 12 months with work reflective of his ‘truly international practice’ – representing individuals, families and family offices in the Middle East, the US, Europe and the UK. The former Spear’s Private Client Lawyer of the Year continues to live up to his strong reputation.

His client base consists of individuals, entrepreneurs, senior executives of financial institutions and professional trustees. He occupies a special niche in his field as a lawyer who acts for ‘a significant number of finance executives, hedge fund managers and private equity principals from top-tier organisations and funds’, with work valued within the ‘£500 million-plus’ range.

Given the nature of his client base, the majority of his matters involve two or more jurisdictions. Indeed, one globally prominent family worth ‘in excess of £6 billion’ has recently instructed Warr and his team to act as the lead adviser on their personal and business affairs.

His mandates often cross other sectors too, with corporate technology, life sciences, and financial services being some of the key Taylor Wessing teams that Warr works seamlessly with.

More from the Spear’s Tax & Trust Index:

The Spear’s Tax & Trust Advisers Index

Top Recommended Lawyers

Top Ten Accountants

Top Recommended Accountants

Rising Stars

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