In a nutshell
You have money. You need to know how best to control it, preserve it and pass it on: enter the private client lawyer. Solicitors advise individuals, families and trusts on wealth management. Some offer additional matrimonial and small-scale commercial assistance, others focus exclusively on highly specialised tax and trusts issues, or operate predominantly in wills and probate.
Charity lawyers advise on all aspects of the activities of non-profit organisations, including the defence of legacies bequeathed to a charity in a will. These specialists need exactly the same skills and knowledge as private client lawyers, but must also have the same kind of commercial knowledge as corporate lawyers.
What lawyers do
Private client lawyers
- Draft wills in consultation with clients and facilitate their implementation after death. Probate involves the appointment of an executor and the settling of an estate. Organising a house clearance or even a funeral is not outside the scope of a lawyer's duties.
- Advise clients on the most tax-efficient and appropriate structure for holding money and assets. Lawyers must ensure their clients understand the foreign law implications of trusts held in offshore jurisdictions.
- Advise overseas clients interested in investing in the UK and banks whose overseas clients have UK interests.
- Assist clients with the very specific licensing, sales arrangements and tax planning issues related to ownership of heritage chattels (individual items or collections of cultural value or significance).
- Bring or defend litigation in relation to disputed legacies.
- Advise charities on registration, reorganisation, regulatory compliance and the implications of new legislation.
- Offer specialist trusts and investment advice.
- Advise on quasi-corporate and mainstream commercial matters, negotiate and draft contracts for sponsorship and the development of trading subsidiaries, manage property issues and handle IP concerns.
Realities of the job
- An interest in other people’s affairs is going to help. A capacity for empathy coupled with impartiality and absolute discretion are the hallmarks of a good private client lawyer. You’ll need to be able to relate to and earn the trust of your many varied clients.
- Despite not being as chaotic as other fields, the technical demands of private client work can be exacting and an academic streak goes a long way.
- A great deal of private client work is tax-based, particularly involving income and estate tax. Specialists in this area also need their corporate tax knowledge to be up to scratch as it's not unusual for the families they work for to have multimillion-dollar businesses to their names.
- The stereotype of the typical ‘country gent’ client is far from accurate: lottery wins, personal injury payouts, property portfolios, massive City salaries and successful businesses all feed the demand for legal advice.
- If you are wavering between private clients and commercial clients, charities law might offer a good balance. Charities range from small voluntary organisations to large, global behemoths.
- Your charity clients may have more worthy goals than those of your friends working for big business, but they'll need advice on many of the same issues: from how to incorporate, to supply contracts, to the duties of management and trustees.
- Charities law still conjures up images of sleepy local fund-raising efforts or, alternatively, working on a trendy project for wealthy benefactors. The wide middle ground can incorporate working with a local authority, assisting a local library or school to establish an after-school homework programme, or rewriting the constitution of a 300-year-old church school to admit female pupils. Widespread international trust in English charity law means that you could also establish a study programme in Britain for a US university or negotiate the formation of a zebra conservation charity in Tanzania.
The Covid-19 pandemic prompted a general increase in power of attorney enquiries. Many firms have made increased use of phone calls and videoconferencing to cope with the rise in demand while maintaining safe practice. Mental assessments of clients whose capabilities are compromised are usually recorded in person by an adviser – during the Covid-19 pandemic, this was impossible. Where medical assessments were needed, some private medical practices conducted doctor's reports over videoconferencing apps.
- Wills continue to be witnessed virtually following the pandemic, to support vulnerable people who may need to isolate. The legislation allowing video-witnessing of wills has been extended to January 2024, but is intended as a last resort. As the signing process requires witnesses and will-makers to see each other and the signing of the will – or hear, for the visually impaired – the videoconferencing process also has to comply. Sessions should also be recorded when possible.
At the time of writing, the Powers of Attorney Bill is passing through Parliament, and is set to reform the process of making and registering lasting powers of attorney (LPA).Changes include identity verification and a smoother process for objecting to a registration. Different processes and evidence will also be accepted for digital and paper registrations. The Ministry of Justice and the Office of the Public Guardian have taken these steps to increase safeguarding, streamline the process and keep the cost of LPAs down.
The Finance Act 2022 raised the normal minimum pension age (NMPA) from 55 to 57 – to take effect from April 2028 – and contained measures to minimise promoters of tax avoidance.
The Office of Public Guardian in 2022 agreed to change its guidance on the provision of investments through a discretionary investment provider with a financial Lasting Power of Attorney. In its press release, the Law Society highlighted how this is a positive step for those acting under LPA for loved ones as it removes any nonessential expenses.
Charity and private wealth have long been intertwined – a huge number of disputes concern sums of money left in Wills to charities – but the super-rich are taking this to a new level. Bill Gates and his (now) ex-wife formed what is now the world's largest private charity – The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation – and over the years have given away tens of billions of dollars. The multibillionaire is also, alongside investment guru Warren Buffett, a founder of the Giving Pledge, an initiative which aims to spur philanthropic-minded billionaires to part with the majority of their total wealth either during their lifetimes or in their Wills.
The rise of social enterprises (commercial organisations with social or charitable, rather than simply monetary, objectives) has blurred the lines between commercial and charities law. Many are structured as companies listed by guarantee, and don't have shareholders (which can make attracting investment difficult). However, a range of legal structures exist for these enterprises to make use of, including charitable trusts, cooperatives and Community Interest Companies (profit-making enterprises that must reinvest their income for the benefit of social objectives).
The Charities Act 2022 was passed into law in February 2022. In 2022, the government implemented the first set of provisions, including amendments to the law on remuneration of charity trustees who provide goods and services to the charity beyond the usual duties of a trustee and enabling charities subject to a Royal Charter to seek to have the Charter amended. Other changes, were implemented in June 2023, which provided charities with greater flexibility in the use of their “permanent endowments”, changed how charities sell or lease land, and made it easier to amend their governing documents.