Private client law
In a nutshell, private client lawyers help high net worth individuals, families and trusts manage their wealth. This area of practice, defined as it is by the identity of the client than by the nature of the work that’s done, overlaps other areas of practice such as tax law. Some similarities exist with corporate law, because you’re likely to spend quite a bit of time working with private charities.
What kinds of clients will I be dealing with?
The client base of a private client lawyer isn’t nearly as broad as, for example, the client base of a personal injury lawyer. Indeed, it’s tempting to asset that your clients will be divisible into two types – old money and new money. “New money” clients, of course, might very well include a fair share of celebrities, especially if you work in the City. Since lawyer-client relationships are typically long-term, you will probably get to know some of your clients very well.
What kind of work will I do at different levels?
The work of a private client lawyer is quite diverse. Following is a sampling of typical activities:
Estate planning: The UK levies a standard inheritance tax of 40 per cent on the value of an estate that exceeds a certain threshold, resulting a great demand for tax-avoidance strategies. Since this threshold ranges from £325,000 to £900,000, only relatively wealthy clients are likely to seek your services on inheritance-tax matters. You will also assist clients across the broad spectrum of estate planning.
Investments: Wealthy clients also seek legal advice, particularly tax advice, on major purchases of artwork, yachts, private jets and real estate.
Offshore holdings and international transactions: You may advise domestic clients on how to take advantage of overseas tax shelters, and international clients on the legal consequences of moving assets and property in and out of the UK. Opportunities for international travel may be plentiful.
Charities: You may advise charities on registration, reorganisation and compliance with new regulatory requirements. You may also assist high net worth individuals in establishing their own charities for taxation or purely philanthropic purposes. As a private client lawyer, you will enjoy extensive face-to-face communication right from the beginning of your career, along with the opportunity to become deeply involved in your clients’ cases and concerns over long periods of time.
Will I enjoy regular working hours?
As a private client lawyer, your working hours will likely be more regular than, for example, a financial markets lawyer. Nevertheless, working with individual clients adds a certain element of unpredictability – don’t be surprised to receive calls during the “wee hours” from a client who expects you to be available 24/7. To the extent that you practice tax law, expect an uptick on working hours in March and April.
How should I tailor my commercial awareness?
As a private client lawyer, you will need to remain up-to-date on breaking developments that could affect your clients’ interests. Some current concerns that are already impacting this area of practice include:
- Publication of the Panama Papers and the resulting pressure on governments to close tax loopholes and to more closely regulate the use of offshore tax havens used by high net worth individuals.
- The UK’s exit from the EU could impact the interests of wealthy clients and charities in unpredictable ways, especially with respect to taxation issues.
- The Charities Act 2016 has strengthened regulation and increased transparency with respect to UK charities, especially those receiving funding from overseas. The powers of the Charity Commission have been expanded, and they may be further expanded in the future.
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