What attracted you to private client law?
After university I worked in publishing and the more I was promoted, the more legal work I was dealing with. I had always been interested in law and so decided to make a change and attend law school. I initially thought I would specialise in media law but when I got there, it was trusts and equity that I found the most interesting areas.
How has your legal career progressed and what has brought you to Square One Law?
I trained in a boutique Lincoln’s Inn firm which specialised in private client work and, when I qualified, I moved to a larger Legal 500 firm in the Home Counties, where I was able to advise high-net-worth individuals. More recently, I worked at EY in London as well as in its Reading office so as to get a greater and deeper knowledge of tax law. I’m from the Scottish Borders originally and it was always the plan to move back North where many of my family and friends live. But I wanted to find the right job first. I was lucky to meet Ian [Gilthorpe, senior partner at Square One Law] and spoke to him about my vision as a private client lawyer which was to provide workable and effective solutions for clients, not just bombarding them with information with no conclusions. That seemed to fit well with Square One Law’s focus on the client being at the heart of what they do, so to come and work for them was a natural progression for me to make.
Tell us about the private client offering at Square Law One.
We offer all of the traditional private client services – so Wills, trusts, and power of attorney, residential property, family and matrimonial services, as well as contentious probate and trusts knowledge; but what is different about us is our ability to understand and help manage complicated tax arrangements. We like to work closely with our clients to make sure they understand how their assets can be taxed so they make informed decisions about their personal or businesses’ future. I work also closely with Robin Winskell who has an impressive understanding of family litigation and private client matters; his knowledge is unrivalled and he has a number of longstanding clients who use him exclusively.
You also advise entrepreneurs on how to structure their businesses through the life cycle of the company, and believe their personal aims should align with their business aims. Why is that?
It is important because, as an entrepreneur, your business is your life and who you are. What you want to achieve in that business should mirror what you want to achieve in your personal wealth planning.
My focus is always to find out what people want to achieve in their business – some people will want to build a business, sell it and retire, others will want to build more than one business. Once I know their ambitions I can then find personal estate planning solutions that will fit with their business vision.
When should an entrepreneur look to you for advice about estate planning?
As early as possible so that we can work closely with them to make sure the right structures are in place as well, as being able to strategically align our plans with their business goals.
What advice would you give an entrepreneur who is just starting out?
Practically, the main thing to consider is the shareholders’ agreement and how that works. So, for example, what happens if a person dies? Or what happens if a person can’t work in the business any more? We would also ensure that there was a will in place and would advise on the personal legal framework they may need to consider in the future.
What about when the business grows?
As the business grows, we are responsible for looking at the shareholdings and how best to structure them. Who is being brought into the business? Does a client want to give dividends away but not control? Clients may also have a change in life circumstance which means they may need to review their will. They may also want to set up trusts or a family investment company, or a charity for some of the profits.
As a person’s wealth grows as a result of a successful business, what issues can this create?
Most of the clients in that bracket are very time-poor. And so what I try to do is make the process as easy as possible. Quite often, they have a number of advisors. So I’m keen to meet with their other advisors to create one strategy that encompasses all the points they will need to consider and act on. It’s the project management aspect that our clients really value.
What advice would you give a business owner who is in a position to begin his or her own charity?
They have to think about how much input they want to have. Some people will want to put money into a donor-advised fund; others will want a family charitable trust, which is a very personal way of running a charity, or alternatively, a more corporate structure may be more appropriate. Do they want their family involved? Do they want it based in the North East, nationally, or will we have to register the charity in different countries? Again, what the client hopes to achieve is the driver so I ensure I find the right solution for them.
How often should people look at their own succession and estate planning strategy?
I would say that everyone should review – and by saying that I doesn’t necessarily mean alter – their Will on an annual basis and when their circumstances change. Just as you would your car insurance. Our team is always happy to meet with people to update them on how any changes in the law that might affect them on an ongoing basis. We often find people may not realise they could face issues.
Speaking of which, what impact will Brexit have on wealth planning?
While we now know the result of the referendum, the Prime Minister must serve an Article 50 notice to the EU Council which will then trigger a minimum two-year notice period. As the Article 50 notice is unlikely to be served before the autumn of this year, the earliest the UK will leave the EU will be late 2018. There shouldn’t be any immediate impact on wealth planning, although obviously we advise clients that this is an area that should be reviewed constantly.
The short-term advice is to keep calm and, to an extent, it is business as usual until we know what the outcome of the negotiations are with the EU Council. Any deal will have to be agreed by the UK and then ratified by the EU Parliament. As you would expect, leaving the EU will be a complicated process and may take some time.
How do you think this decision will impact on estate planning long term?
Whether the UK remained as part of the EU or not there are always economic highs and lows but estate planning remains vitally important. The sooner you can begin the process, the more likely it is that, whatever the situation, you will achieve a favourable and effective outcome for your intended beneficiaries.