Private Client Law
Private Client lawyers act, as the name suggests, for private individuals on a wide range of legal matters: ranging from wealth management and preservation to wills, trusts, and probate.
What does this type of lawyer do?
This field has become an increasingly important area of practice as individuals seek to preserve, grow and ultimately pass on their assets (money, property, land etc) and in so doing minimise their tax liabilities.
Private client solicitors practice at law firms of all different shapes and sizes, the length and breadth of the country, from high street practices and local law firms through to large regional, City niche firms.
The private client work of high street and local solicitors tends to focus more on the ‘bread and butter’ work of wills, trusts and probate for members of the general public.
The larger regional, City and niche firms tend to act for higher net worth individuals, families and estates and in these firms tax planning plays the star role in addition to the ‘bread and butter’ wealth management work. At these law firms there are two relatively distinct groups of clients:
- Traditional or ‘old money’ clients, that would include landed gentry and their estates – here we also see a cross over into heritage property and charities such as the National Trust, English Heritage and
- Entrepreneurial or ‘new money’ clients, who have made their money through business or other non-traditional means
Old money clients have traditionally tended to be more risk-averse in their attitude to tax structuring to minimise their liabilities, in contrast to the new money clients who generally have a more commercial approach to risk. This has in part caused an increase in international nature of high net worth private client work, with firms using complex trusts and offshore tax structures as vehicles to preserve wealth through minimizing tax liabilities.
In addition to the non-contentious nature of private client work, discussed thus far, disputes do arise and as such there is a contentious side to this work.
What skills are required?
A private client solicitor writes wills and administers estates on death to ensure assets are passed on to beneficiaries, in accordance with the terms of the will, before winding the estate up. They will also deal with any disputes that arise.
A private client tax solicitor will advise clients on the most efficient way in which they should hold their assets whether domestic or offshore. It is not unheard of for corporate tax lawyers wishing to move away from the corporate side and get a higher degree of client contact to switch to personal tax.
Personal attributes of private client lawyers may include an interest in people and their affairs, this twinned with discretion and empathy. Key skills are likely to include rigorous drafting and attention to detail.
Key words that keep cropping up to describe the services of leading private client teams include: “Very strong technically; tremendous attention to detail; bright, experienced and dedicated; reliability and people skills’’
The world of the private client lawyer is changing. Fewer individuals are seeking a solicitor to draft a will – but arguably more problems are emerging down the line when legal advice is then sought. With a growing and aging population this is likely to be a continuing trend.
For those dealing with high net worth individuals, the work is increasingly international: with family members living overseas, or overseas nationals living or investing in the UK. It is in this contexts that the private client lawyer needs to find the most effective tax and wealth management solutions. However, perhaps inevitably, the increasingly creative schemes to minimise tax liability have in recent years attracted the attention of the HMRC, which has taken a more robust approach to these tax avoidance schemes.