Sara, can you tell us a bit about your own career and Boodle Hatfield?
I qualified into the Corporate Tax team at Alsop Wilkinson in Manchester in 1991. I did what were then called the ATII exams whilst at the firm and then in 1993, when the LPC was starting off, I was asked to join the then College of Law. I lectured there for a while; first in the Chester and then the Store Street branch. I have found that the lecturing experience has stood me in really good stead over the years in terms of learning how to present and explain what can be tricky concepts to clients and it was something I very much enjoyed. In the end though I missed the day to day practice and detail of tax, so having taught for four years at the college I joined Boodle Hatfield in 1997.
Boodle Hatfield gave me a fantastic opportunity and platform to use my commercial tax knowledge to advise both corporate and private clients on their business affairs and family structures. My particular emphasis is on advising private clients and their various business/ property ventures and integrating the tax requirements of their business life into their overall planning strategies. I regularly advise private clients who are owner-managers or stakeholders in family businesses, whether they hold their interests through onshore or offshore vehicles, as well as trust companies, property developers, investors and entrepreneurs. I became a partner and head of the Commercial Tax team in 1999 and in 2011 became head of the Private Client & Tax team.
You’ve just been named the firm’s new senior partner which must be an exciting prospect. How did the selection process work and when will you formally take up the post?
Earlier this year Richard Maughan, our current senior partner, announced that he planned to retire at the end of April next year. The partners therefore held an election for a new senior partner and I was selected. I will take up post on 1st May 2015.
Will there be other changes to the firm’s senior management structure?
Yes, we will be making other changes to our structure. The plan is to introduce a management committee structure which will be made up of myself and two other partners: Simon Rylatt, our head of Contentious Trusts & Estates and Saskia Arthur, our head of Residential Property. We will work with a new chief operating officer. The COO role is a new one for the firm and we have been lucky enough to recruit a great candidate from DLA – Andy Wansell who joined us on 13th October. The management team is already starting to work alongside Richard and we are thoroughly enjoying getting our teeth into planning the development of Boodle Hatfield over the next few years.
What are your aims for the firm in the short to medium term?
In financial terms, and without wishing to be complacent, I think our aim for the short term is “more of the same”. Our performance continues to be strong and this year we achieved a PEP of £502,000 and an increase in turnover of nearly 20%. We want to continue to hold our position and invest in the business so we maintain our existing excellent team and attract the right new people as well. More generally, we will retain our focus on the Private Wealth market and we have some exciting ideas to develop further Boodle Hatfield’s offering in our core markets of both domestic and international Private Client and Property.
Can you tell us a bit about the firm’s international expansion strategy?
We are fortunate to be based in London as it has such a strong attraction as a city in which to live, work, invest and – of course – play. It is also the place from which so many global families choose to manage their legal affairs. Having the right team in place to provide the technical tax and structuring advice required by the internationally wealthy is, of course, key and we have invested – and continue to invest – in both learning and people to ensure that we meet all their expectations.
As a firm, we have been advising the wealthy in London for nearly 300 years, so as well as having up-to-date technical tax and other legal know how, we are also well versed in what these clients need in terms of succession planning, family governance and conflict resolution amongst many other issues. Whilst not new, they are perhaps best described as timeless in dealing with what are after all families and family relationships. We do not have overseas offices but prefer to build our links with the right international firms in particular jurisdictions. We have a particular focus on key hubs in Europe, the USA and Asia.
Did the financial crisis change how the firm operates? If so how?
We were fortunate in coming through the financial crisis in pretty good shape and I wouldn’t say it particularly changed the way we operated. During the period, we continued to review our systems and made sure that we had up-to-date processes in place. We were vigilant in focussing on credit control, cash flow and ensuring our client take-on procedures were strong.
You’ve also recently moved to new offices in Bankside but kept your old base in Mayfair. What prompted the move?
In 2012, the firm undertook a review of its property requirements and what options were available in London. We realised that as London thrived, new areas were undergoing significant regeneration and were becoming much more attractive for businesses which were looking to work from first-class buildings with good connections to the whole of London.
We decided, therefore, that it would make sense to base the firm in Bankside, which is fast becoming a core hub for London. We have taken space in a new, state of the art building which provides us with excellent access to clients, other professionals and the Courts. The move has given us the opportunity to invest in new technology and facilities which will allow us to develop our services to clients in the future.
However, the firm has been in Mayfair for 300 years and the area remains very important to us. We have therefore also taken a new office space in the heart of Mayfair where we have meeting rooms and working space for staff. This dual location is working out well and clients like to have the choice of where to meet.
Have you faced any challenges being a senior female lawyer?
I think I have been extremely lucky in not really having any issues in my career that I can put down to gender inequality issues. I have worked in three very different environments but in all of them I have felt part of a very supportive team where I could make a valued contribution. Boodle Hatfield – of course – has a long track record of successful female lawyers.
When I joined the firm, I was fortunate that the Private Client team already had two key individuals: Sue Laing and Kate Howe. They were role models to the whole team but from a purely personal perspective their presence demonstrated how this was a firm where it was possible to combine both family life and a first-class professional life. I can certainly vouch for that still being the case. In fact, at the moment, 60% of our equity partners are female which indicates that our philosophy is working. As a result, we have won the Euromoney Best National Law Firm for Business Law for the last three years. As a slightly tongue in cheek comment I would say that working “down South” I have faced more issues from being a Northerner than being a woman!
In five words, why do clients choose Boodle Hatfield?
Excellence; Understanding; Discretion; Solutions & Integrity.
What are your own career goals that you still want to achieve?
At the moment, I am looking forward to the challenge of becoming as good a senior partner as possible and helping to guide Boodle Hatfield over the next few years to further success and international recognition in all the aspects of the private wealth field. I also want to keep on top of the technical tax changes that come along and continue to work with my clients to help them achieve their objectives in the most tax effective way.