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eprivateclient interviews Bart Peerless on harnessing the power of private capital

In an interview with eprivateclient, Bart Peerless, Senior Partner explains that harnessing the power of private capital and developing the connection between a client’s private wealth and their corporate entities remains a strategic focus for the Firm.

See the full piece below:

Harnessing the power of private capital and developing the connection between a client’s private wealth and their corporate entities remains a key focus for international law firm Charles Russell Speechlys, the firm’s senior partner, Bart Peerless, explained to eprivateclient.

With vast wealth emerging across the globe, the strong connection between people's private wealth and the companies they founded or manage is becoming more prevalent, and it is increasingly necessary for firms such as Charles Russell Speechlys to have expertise across both of those areas.

At the same time, the changing nature of the global legal landscape where clients’ needs are becoming more and more complicated – with forces such as growing costs, regulation and compliance driving consolidation – means firms need to be nimbler to manage that and attract the right people.

"I think that the private capital theme, the power of private capital, is now clearly recognised within the financial media and financial markets, and therefore it is increasingly necessary for firms such as ours to be able to have expertise across both private client and business areas of law and client service," Mr Peerless said.

“We are also seeing our clients ask for better collaboration and seamless service between traditional private client advisory work and the firm’s transactional and contentious teams, so our services extend beyond their personal or family affairs into their wider commercial interests. This brings our whole firm into play.”

Mr Peerless said that these individuals, their families and firms all need expert succession and governance advice.

“As clients’ affairs become more and more complicated, you just need to be bigger to manage that and attract the right people. This is a dynamic marketplace that is attracting some great emerging talent.”

Mr Peerless added that the type of advice the firm is providing is becoming more diverse and complex.

“The wealth is greater and the things you're dealing with and helping clients with are becoming more complicated and therefore more technically interesting.”

An indication of the increasingly complex and global nature of the firm’s work and client base was the recent promotion of 11 lawyers from across its service lines and locations which, Mr Peerless said, reinforced Charles Russell Speechlys’ “global presence” and that it is the firm’s “international offices which are currently growing quickest.”

“That is partly because relatively many of these are newer businesses and so can grow more quickly. These international businesses are highly focused on the firm's core strategy, including private capital.”

The firm recently celebrated five years in Hong Kong, with the office there “a very important part of our Asia Pacific private capital play,” Mr Peerless said.

“You need to get these offices to a critical mass for them to work on every level, not simply from a profit perspective, but as a viable, properly functioning advisory environment.”

Outside of Asia, Mr Peerless said that the firm’s offering in the Middle East remains very important, which is reflected by its presence in three locations – Bahrain, Dubai and Qatar – and its headcount in the region, which is second only to that in Europe and has been growing quickly.

Europe also remains a key part of Charles Russell Speechlys’ global strategy with offices in France, Luxembourg and two in Switzerland. As established long term presences, Mr Peerless said these offices have “greater scale” compared to its Asia Pacific offices but are locations where the firm continues to invest and grow.

For example, Mr Peerless explained the firm had “been recruiting more local lawyers into our Geneva and Zurich offices to build on our UK and international work there; this helps bring greater breadth and reach to these offices. We are building both of our offices out and that seems to be working well.”

Despite its growing international presence and advisory footprint, for clients “there's still very significant interest in core private assets in the UK, with huge attachment still from international clients to prime central London real estate,” Mr Peerless said.

In terms of larger commercial investments, “over the past few months, the nervousness around the state of politics in the UK had died down,” Mr Peerless said, “but people are still wanting further settlement in the UK political situation” and are “watching and waiting.”

“With every passing week there seems to be a greater level of normality in UK politics, which from the perspective of the international investor is definitely to be welcomed.”

In the UK, the firm has recently appointed Italian tax specialist Nicola Saccardo as a partner within its private client team in London from Italian law firm Maisto.

“We are thrilled to have recruited Nicola, who has an outstanding reputation, and we are delighted for Nicola to grow his Italian practice here. [Italy] has now got a very attractive inbound tax regime, which I think is particularly attractive to other Europeans and people from the US.”

“It's becoming a competitor on the non-dom stage with the UK now.”

The firm’s London office is seeing more and more people working there on a daily basis and Mr Peerless said he was “not surprised” that the firm was seeing more of its staff returning to the office thanks to its “gravitational pull” and the opportunity for senior staff to share their experience and knowhow with younger staff, who have been keen to return.

Clients also like meeting face to face, especially when sensitive or difficult topics need addressing and resolving. “Zoom” often gets you only so far in those situations. He said that professional services businesses “are actually in some ways like creative industries and people are more creative when they come together.”

Despite this steady return to a more traditional working environment, Mr Peerless said that clearly more flexible working was here to stay and brought other benefits to the firm’s people and its clients. To benefit fully from the opportunities opened up by new working styles, the firm is actively engaging with technological innovation in the legal sector but implementing changes incrementally and only where the firm is confident that they add true value to clients.

Mr Peerless explained that to date the uptake of AI and machine-learning solutions has been faster in service areas that involve very large document databases. This is partly because the technology requires sufficient volume to see patterns that enable it to identify relevant or responsive materials.

Machine learning still relies on the programme being “taught” correctly by an experienced lawyer at the outset. Where used appropriately, however, such tools can produce a much faster, more cost effective and more consistent result in litigation disclosure or data room reviews than the traditional laborious manual review by junior staff.

“Technology is also changing the sector’s approach to creating documents. Contract creation tools enable standard form documentation packs to be put together far more quickly. Comparison tools embedded within documents can help lawyers to spot anomalies or inconsistencies in the documents more quickly. 

"However, there is still a long way to go before these kinds of technologies replace the lawyer’s expertise and creativity on complex and bespoke matters.”

“As well as the heavy investment into our technology globally, we have been refreshing our business development, client relations and marketing efforts to ensure we are at the forefront of engagement with our clients and that our brand is relevant to all generations. 

"We can, at every touch point, engage with our clients. Whether by inviting them as a guest on our new podcast series or to events, involving them in our intermediary programme, or introducing them to our new private office team, we are collaborating with our clients more than ever.”

Mr Peerless concluded: "So, the technology impacts how we deliver, but now, it's incremental rather than revolutionary. Often people expect to see a rabbit-out-of-the-hat moment, and it's tempting to want something to arrive that suddenly changes the world immediately. However, it doesn't tend to happen like that. It is usually gradual. It's only when you look back with the benefit of 10 years’ hindsight, take a step back, and then appreciate, wow, that's a big transformation."

Read the full article in eprivateclient here.

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