The Law: Private Client

Private client work may be less fast-paced than corporate, but you could find yourself advising some interesting people


The Law: Private ClientWhats it all about?
Private client lawyers are usually the first port of call for individuals, families or trusts (a tool used to hold assets for the benefit of a third party) requiring legal advice on wealth management and tax planning. Some private client lawyers also focus on legal issues arising out of the death of an individual, such as the distribution of a deceased persons money and property.

The current trend is for clients to invest their money overseas (offshore) in tax havens such as Bermuda, the Cayman Islands or the Channel Islands, and day-to-day work could well involve advising clients on the legal and tax implications of making such investments. However, a typical private client lawyer will still spend a lot of time on the more traditional work of drafting wills and filling forms.

Your clients will range from high-net-worth individuals to families, and will often include the rich and famous you could find yourself advising anyone from Richard Branson to a member of the Royal Family.

The pros:
Lots of client contact
Plenty of hands-on experience
Varied work

The cons:
It is a niche sector, so career options may be restricted
The work can arguably more legal/technical
The pace is slower than in a corporate environment

The working culture
Private client lawyers are not normally expected to do all-nighters or to work at weekends, and they generally have a better work-life balance than corporate lawyers, for instance. However, clients can be demanding because, as individuals, their personal interests are usually at stake and they may therefore need advice at a moments notice.

Since cases are more bite-sized than big corporate deals, junior lawyers and even trainees are likely to get the chance to get stuck in with serious cases early on, and in some instances may even get to run their own files.

Why is this interesting?
The work of a private client lawyer is extremely varied. One day you might be dealing with the estate of a famous photographer wishing to give his work to a museum, while the next you might be drafting documents relating to the creation of a complicated trust.

Personal and legal skills required
You will need to have a strong interest in people. Due to the nature of the work, you will have access to personal information, and discretion is essential so no name-dropping.

Case Study

When the Saga holiday and travel insurance business was sold for 1.35bn to private equity house Charterhouse, private client specialist Withers advised the trustees of the Roger de Haan family trust, which owned 40 per cent of the company, on the best exit strategy.

The de Haan family made its fortune by offering holidays tailored to the over 50s. Saga was founded by the late Sidney de Haan in 1951 as a single hotel in Folkstone, Kent.

Led by partners John Riches and Katie Graves, the teams objective was to balance the commercial interests against the fiduciary duties of the trustees to their beneficiaries.

This meant allowing the trustees to sell the stake in the business for the maximum possible value, while at the same time preventing them from entering into a deal that could make them liable for more than the value of the trust fund, or where future claims could be made against them for the assets in the deal that they had no control over.

City firm Herbert Smith acted for Saga on the corporate side, while corporate boutique Dickson Minto advised Charterhouse.