Key Facts

The private client sector in a law firm (also known as the 'private wealth' sector at some places) is all things trust, estate planning and wills and probate. Think money managing legal services for individuals.

Private client work can be offered at law firms of all sizes, be that big or small. At a lot of the high street and local law firms, the private client work will tend to comprise lots of legal drafting of wills and trusts and probate for members of the general public. For example, if you own a family home or have some savings, you'll want to ensure appropriate provisions are in place to deal with those assets once you die (as morbid as that sounds!). 

different scale of private client work exists amongst higher net worth individuals (i.e. people that have a lot of money!). Usually, such individuals will instruct law firms that are of regional, national/city or specialist private client law firms. Such lawyers will manage high net worth individual's tax planning and wealth to ensure money is held in a tax efficient way and incurs as little fees/interest as possible!

What do Private Client Lawyers do?

Typical work of a private client lawyer will include: 

  • drafting wills 

  • executing the terms of the will (in the event of death)

  • appointing executors and assisting with the distribution of the properties and assets under a will

  • granting powers of attorney 

  • assisting with estate planning and wealth management for individuals (that's not just about wills and passing money/assets on death but also how to manage money during life to ensure money is handled in a tax efficient way)

    • this will be done via succession and tax planning and structuring wealth to pass down to generations​ (say via trusts)

  • drafting trusts for clients which will manage the way certain assets are distributed to family members / younger generations (such as money being held on trust until a child turns 18 etc) 

  • setting up family investment companies to hold a family's wealth and using the wealth to engage in investment activities to make more money 

  • trust management such as advising trustees on the administration of trusts 

  • advising on tax issues such as how to handle inheritance tax

The most complex and largest area of private client law generally is the wealth planning element of it. Wealth planning aims to minimise capital gains and inheritance tax liabilities on an estate and ensure the correct succession of assets - that's generally what all of the above aims to achieve!

If you work at one of the bigger firms and handle the high net worth type private client work, you'll find yourself working for lots of rich international clients. As such, you'll have to research and have a good understanding of how tax and financial planning works in the resident country of that client. There'll be issues around international assets, cross-border tax issues and tax exemptions on things like heritage property. An interest in international law is therefore essential!

Charitable work 

You'll be used to seeing lots of celebrities form their own charitable foundations and you'll hear the rumours associated with doing that too i.e. they're just doing it to save tax. Whether that's true or not is unknown but having a charitable foundation can help with tax management (and will assist with clients that wish to pursue philanthropy). 

 

The charitable sector and the private client sector heavily overlap as most high net worth individuals will want to form a foundation as part of their wealth/estate management. 

Contentious?

You'll see that lots of the work of a private client will involve advising on estate management and drafting extensive legal documents to put certain structures and processes in place. However, there is a contentious element to the work too - such as disputes between beneficiaries and trustees in relation to the distribution of assets. 

Typical lifestyle of a private client lawyer will involve: 

  • juggling lots of matters (usually around 10+) a day 

  • lots of client meetings (at least one or two a day)

  • less deadline driven so workload is more controllable

  • lots of travelling to see clients (and if you work for international high net worth clients this could involve travelling to other countries too!) 

Trainees will usually take notes at client meetings, carry out follow up work after the meeting, preparing first draft of legal documents such as wills, trust deeds and visa applications (if appropriate), researching tax or trust law in respect of complex points of law that arise and writing articles on trust/tax law issues (either on firm's website or for other publications). 

Skills required...

  • excellent people management and communication skills - you'll have to have lots of empathy as clients may be approaching you at an emotional time for them and you'll need to explain complex legal points to individuals with little to no legal knowledge 

  • comprehensive knowledge of law and commercial matters - think tax, inheritance, investments and trusts 

  • innovative, practical and ability to think outside the box - you'll have to go through lots of rules and regulations to structure matters in a way that is beneficial to a client and save costs 

  • interest in international markets as lots of clients will hold their assets and funds abroad and will operate offshore organisations (need to understand overseas tax havens)

  • strong drafting skills - drafting is a generally very important skill for a lawyer but in private client, it's even more so because what you draft will be heavily relied upon and scrutinised word for word in the event of a person's death that triggers the provisions of the document 

  • organisation skills - you'll be managing lots of matters and tasks at once