Upholding the Law at the Abbey

TV series Downton Abbey is more than just entertainment, it offers many scenarios for practising law

Victoria Symons

Is it just me, or is Downton Abbey so much more fun to watch as a lawyer (or Lawyer 2B!). Eye candy aside, the majority of characters in isolation would keep a multi-disciplinary law firm going for some time and the potential of acting for the whole family would see one right through the recession and out the other side again.

That’s the joy of acting for landed estates, there are so many complexities and so many nuances to consider. Let’s take it from the top:

Firstly, there’s the grand old dames, the Dowager Countess, Mrs Crawley and, new on the scene, Martha Levinson (Shirley MacLaine). Their vintage may put them past the ideal age for advantageous tax planning but with all the changes going on around them, a health check of their wills may well be in order. It would also be sensible (if not politic) to raise the thorny question of enduring powers of attorney while they still have their wits about them.

Then there’s the powerhouse itself, Lord and Lady Grantham. Hitherto a rock in any storm, Lord Grantham’s short-sighted investments are threatening to bring an end to life at Downton Abbey. It’s time for a serious financial and legal review to ring-fence those assets while they still can. Not to mention the possibility of an individual voluntary arrangement being negotiated on the horizon.

Lady Mary and Matthew offer rich pickings too. It may be too late for a pre-nup, but the Supreme Court has indicated that a post nuptial agreement may be given equal regard by the Courts, if falling short of giving them full legal effect. Matthew’s likely inheritance c/o Lavinia’s father also means it’s time to sit down and start planning their own family’s future. Setting up new family trusts may have lost much of its appeal in the new tax regime, but the use of an LLP to hold family assets in a tax efficient manner could be worth further thought.

And never write off the younger generation. Lady Edith and Lady Sybil may not be central to the plot at the moment, but my money would be on keeping a close eye on both: their entrepreneurial spirit shown in the last series could make them real players in business and goodness knows there’s potential to generate money from an estate such as this. That is, assuming that Lady Sybil can avoid being implicated under any terrorism charges in the meantime.

And that’s just the immediate family. What about all those staff? It’s a fair guess nobody has ever produced those summary terms of employment each employee is entitled to, nor thought about getting the appropriate opt-outs from the Working Time Regulations.

So much to consider and so much potential. I blame the ‘new world’ for turning an excellent series into an exercise in business development opportunities. Shame on me.