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The Legal 500 Hall of Fame Icon The Legal 500 Hall of Fame highlights individuals who have received constant praise by their clients for continued excellence. The Hall of Fame highlights, to clients, the law firm partners who are at the pinnacle of the profession. In the United Kingdon, the criteria for entry is to have been recognised by The Legal 500 as one of the elite leading lawyers for eight years. These partners are highlighted below and throughout the editorial.
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London is internationally recognised as having a significant number of excellent private client firms and the market remains buoyant, although the impact of Brexit is the subject of much speculation. Some family firms predict that there will be a significant increase in work in the aftermath of Brexit, as senior executives are asked to relocate from London while other family members may wish to remain in the UK. Others report that Brexit is already having an impact on their practices as couples who have been co-habiting for years are now formalising their arrangements and are getting married, with wealthy individuals in particular inclined to enter into formal legal agreements to preserve and protect their assets in view of the uncertainty.

Other family practices are doing more work to protect children as worries about the radicalisation of younger family members come to the fore. Firms handling publicly funded work remain concerned about their clients’ access to justice as cuts to the legal aid system continue.

There is a growing emphasis on non-adversarial options to resolve family conflicts, such as mediation and solicitor-to-solicitor negotiations. These options are seen to be more cost-effective, and have the added advantage of being more private, leading more and more high-profile couples to look at other ways of resolving family disputes than resorting to court. Couples who commence family law proceedings must first undergo a mediation information assessment to determine if mediation could be a more suitable way of resolving their situation, and this has led to an increase in the number of firms building up their practices in this area.

Court of Protection is a niche practice area, and is expanding, with firms witnessing a surge on the contentious side with more deputyship applications. There is also added work as local authorities are getting involved at an earlier stage of the process and seeking assistance from law firms, particularly in relation to safeguarding issues. Irwin Mitchell, Thomson Snell & Passmore and Withers LLP continue to dominate in this practice area.

The firms recommended for personal tax, trusts and probate and contentious trusts and probate are adept at advising on wealth management for nationally and internationally mobile wealthy clients. These firms also understand the need for discretion when handling the financial affairs of high-net-worth individuals. Such clients have assets in multiple jurisdictions and expect a high standard of service and expertise. The top private client firms can handle cross-border matters with ease, and regularly advise on offshore trusts and the sheltering of assets in multiple jurisdictions. The pre-eminent firms in this field are also experienced in dealing with reputation management issues to ensure that their clients have investment structures in place which are legitimate and do not attract unwanted media or legal scrutiny.

These firms were busy advising ultra-high-net-worth non-domiciled families on the proposed changes to the taxation of non-domiciled individuals, which had been due to come into effect in April 2017. Immigration of high-net-worth individuals had been increasing into the UK, and many existing clients are concerned about their immigration position in the UK following the result of the EU 2016 referendum. On the law firm front, an important development in the private client arena was the move of Gowling WLG’s 19-strong private wealth team to Forsters LLP in May 2017.

Charities are also concerned that post-Brexit it may be more difficult to move money across borders. They are also increasingly aware of data protection and compliance issues, with more charities also enquiring about the common reporting standards. It is undoubtedly a challenging time within the charitable sector, with increased media scrutiny on governance and fundraising issues also.

The appetite for investment in art and antiquities remains strong, despite the volatility in the area of art funding; it appears that fewer banks are willing to lend against art when valuable works of art are being used as security. Firms with particular strength in this area are Boodle Hatfield LLP, Farrer & Co and Mishcon de Reya LLP.

Advice to rural land and large estates – typically owned by private individuals, family generations or larger trusts – is an area of legal practice which remains the domain of private client firms as opposed to commercial real estate practices; Boodle Hatfield LLP, Farrer & Co, Forsters LLP and Withers LLP remain pre-eminent.

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