Private client is fashionable once again

Private client is often seen as a somewhat staid practice area. The business of wills and probate can seem dry, dusty and somewhat small-time – the domain of high-street lawyers, not the big City firms with their multibillion-pound corporate transactions and glamorous court cases.

In fact, it’s a bright time for London’s private client firms. Such is the health of the sector that the magic circle, which jettisoned their private client departments nearly a decade ago, are building up teams once again. Linklaters hired Forsters partner Peter Golden in March 2016 to head up a trusts practice while the likes of Clifford Chance are also active in the area, despite not shouting about their capabilities.

But away from the magic circle, the private client teams that never went away are reaping the rewards of their long-term investment.

“Right now is a really exciting time to be working with individuals on their tax and wealth planning,” says Withers partner Ceri Vokes. “A number of world events and new legislation have caused significant re-thinking of traditional approaches to private client issues, including the Brexit referendum, tightening up the terms of UK non-dom status and the Trump administration’s proposed tax reforms, to name just three.”

“This means that insightful, far-reaching advice is in high demand by clients and we’re extremely busy, which creates opportunities for talented associates.”

“The private client market is growing and we believe that it provides excellent prospects for private client associates,” adds Boodle Hatfield senior partner Sara Maccallum. “The growing trend for international high net worth individuals to use the English legal system to structure their affairs and to use English advisers to co-ordinate the advice from different legal systems looks set to continue. This, coupled with the recent and ongoing changes in legislation, mean that private client lawyers are being kept very busy and it is an exciting area in which to work.”

Are there skills that private client associates need now that weren’t needed in the past? “It’s increasingly important for associates to have an international perspective,” says Vokes. “It’s obviously not a necessity in all instances, but globalisation has certainly resulted in more of our projects involving multiple jurisdictions and that trend is unlikely to go into reverse.”

“It’s also critical for associates to have a proven ability to generate new business,” she adds. “This often starts right at the beginning of their careers with the relationships they forge with clients, because the biggest compliment a client can pay us is to refer a contact to us.  Ambitious associates who are growing in seniority should be looking to demonstrate what they could add to the firm’s business as a future partner.”

But equally, “if an associate is serious about becoming a partner, he or she has to be a technician as well as whatever other rainmaking skills they have,” argues Forsters’ head of private client Patrick Harney. “The whole area has become more technical – you can’t dabble in this area, the need for technical excellence is a prerequisite. That combined with the client skills and rainmaking ability makes a complete private client partner.”