Pinsent Masons LLP
Karl is a Partner and Head of the Private Wealth team at Pinsent Masons. With a background as a banking lawyer arranging structured funding for major corporate transactions, Karl leads a large multidisciplinary team of lawyers and other professional advisors offering commercial solutions for the firm's private banking clients and high net-worth individuals globally. He is well known in the private client arena for facilitating transactions on behalf of clients, drawing on his substantial network of private bankers, investors and other high net worth advisors to do so. Ranked in the category of "Private Client" by Legal 500, Karl's team brings together the combined expertise of leading corporate, property, sports, media, immigration, banking, tax and trust lawyers to offer individuals modern, commercial legal solutions for preserving and enhancing wealth.
James Thomlinson (JT): You were previously at McGrigors who merged last year with Pinsent Masons. How has the merger increased the range of services on offer? Has it been a relatively smooth transition?
Karl Wooley (KW): It's been fantastic to see the way in which Private Wealth has been embraced by Pinsent Masons. The transition itself was remarkably smooth and there has been a tremendous level of enthusiasm for new ideas - including Private Wealth, which didn't exist at Pinsent Masons pre-merger. What was clear from the outset was that both firms had a lot to offer in terms of some of the core areas relevant to high net worth individuals. These include real estate, sports law and banking where we have grown significantly and the key area of tax where we've added a dedicated HNW Tax Advisory team to our market leading tax disputes and interventions practice.
JT: Pinsent Masons is well-known to have a global reach – even more so following the merger with McGrigors. From your position as Head of Private Wealth you are clearly well-placed to monitor the different types of clients which benefit from your services. Has your clients' geographical origin fluctuated over the past few years; presumably a significant number of your clients originate from the locations most commonly associated with HNWIs and UHNWIs such as Russia and the UAE?
KW: Our core client base has always consisted of individuals from the res non-dom community with a strong emphasis on Russia, the Middle East and the former Soviet Union. Over the past few years we've witnessed an explosion of activity in the UK from these individuals and much increased activity from the Middle East and Far East, including Qatar, Shanghai and Singapore. Post-merger we're really well placed to tap into this evolving, internationally mobile entrepreneurial class with our network of offices across the Middle East, China and Singapore.
JT: How have you found the UK real estate industry recently and do you see the market improving slightly as we do at Voltaire? Do you find your property clients have become more or less demanding given the relative shortage of debt and capital in the sector?
KW: I would agree with that in general terms, but whilst we've seen the super-prime residential property market in London booming at the top end, anecdotal evidence suggests that HNWIs are being more cautious at the £2-3million level. I would attribute this to some extent to the uncertainty in connection with the introduction of the Annual Tax on Enveloped Dwellings which has dampened demand at that level. Contrast that to the retail property market where prices have languished over the past few years; these assets are now demonstrating good value for money. On the back of that we've seen strengthening demand and a surge in inward investment from the overseas HNW community looking to snap up undervalued property at a fraction of what they might have paid in 2007. There are still some attractive returns possible for those willing to buy outside central London.
On the second part of your question, and from the perspective of a lawyer, the legal market is clearly substantially more competitive than it was a few years ago. Deals are taking noticeably longer to complete and there is far greater pressure on fees. The effect of this has been consolidation in the legal services market, and reflects the consolidation that has taken place among wealth management firms.
JT: We at Voltaire have always had an appetite for getting involved in complicated transactions as it allows us to add value in more ways than a straightforward case. Our advice to our existing clients and to new borrowers is always to get good quality legal advice sooner rather than later to ensure that the opportunity is sound from both a structuring and strategic point of view. I appreciate that you keep a private wealth angle in mind throughout but assuming you are looking to assist a new client at what point in the life of a transaction would you prefer to get involved and what are your first steps?
KW: We echo your sentiment and our advice would always be to get quality legal advice as early in the process. We recognise that there is a degree of reluctance to engage professional advisers very early on in a transaction. Our response is that we would much rather have a conversation we didn't charge for at an early stage, so that when it comes to structuring the transaction we can do so in the most efficient manner possible - even if that means investing some time up front.