60 second interview with Julia Cox, Charles Russell Speechlys
Julia Cox, partner in the private wealth group at CRS invites us into her ‘lockdown life’ to talk work, client challenges and planning a staycation.
Tell me about your role.
I am a partner in the private wealth group at Charles Russell Speechlys. The advice I give encompasses almost everything that emanates from the individual’s concern to secure, manage and pass on assets, including their businesses and land, usually as tax efficiently and as protectively as possible, but always (ultimately) to secure their own particular objectives. In my experience, every family is different; not just the unhappy ones as Tolstoy would have us believe.
Most obviously my work involves tax mitigation, Wills, powers of attorney and trusts, all regularly laced with some international dimension (assets, children etc). However, it regularly covers my clients’ family company concerns and philanthropic ambitions.
I have been really privileged to have acted for a number of clients for more than one, if not two (sshh) decades now and I am often their first port of call for any legal “issue”. I like to bring in the best of our specialists to deliver the desired result for them in the way I know from experience that they want it, and I highly value the relationships we have formed.
What does a typical day look like for you?
I would usually write that every day is different, and it certainly is in underlying work terms. However, we’re all into our fifth month of lockdown as I write and for most of the working days of that the pattern has been the same. I have headed down the stairs to the home office desk each morning, to work on documents and emails, make and take calls and virtually meet clients and contacts, before heading back up the stairs quite some time later. So the working day has looked quite physically “static”, even though the work itself has been uber-intense – all those without a finalised succession plan in March wanted one and all those with one wanted to review it!
As we come out of lockdown, I expect my working days to involve far more “movement”; to and from the office (not far), between floors there (where we all genuinely know each other and like to interact) and otherwise to see clients (for many of whom I head out to wherever suits them; I have missed the odd Woman’s Hour!).
Tell us about a recent client instruction.
Let’s take one of those without the finalised succession plan; a super successful entrepreneur who understandably kept pushing this down the “to do” list, attending to the demands of their extraordinarily busy personal and professional life.
However, they were straight onto me in lockdown, with some updated circumstances of their own, and we implemented the succession strategy to reflect their objectives to their satisfaction right now. The palpable sense of relief that came from achieving that in the midst of a global pandemic was a real boon for me and them. I could see the client’s virtual springy step as they went on their way knowing that if the proverbial bus ever comes hurtling towards them, they aren’t going to be wishing that they had spent more time talking to me!
This big value case in the context of the world crisis was a lucid wake-up call than none of us know what is coming, but plan with what you know now and we shall adapt, not least as we pride ourselves on not writing our legal documents in tablets of stone where possible. It’s about building the trust that, all other things being equal, I am not going anywhere and I am certainly not judging, so pick up the phone and we will work through whatever comes your way.
What challenges do your clients face and how are you helping your clients to overcome them?
Many of the challenges that my clients face are the same as those we all do, though the numbers tend to be a lot bigger and that brings in additional tax considerations and other complexities.
So yes, many are worried about a wealth tax, and tax rises generally.
We are reviewing their circumstances as they stand and where we can take advantage of existing rules, particularly while asset values may currently be suppressed to mitigate any tax on gifts.
A perennial challenge is that the most tax efficient outcome often involves the biggest sacrifice in terms of control and/or protection from third parties, for example on a beneficiary’s divorce. Even if clients trust their own children, they may not trust those they meet. Locking in for the bloodline only is also a perennial theme.
In that context, often compounded by the spectre of a wealth tax, we have been particularly exploring other ways of passing on assets always tax effectively, but in a protective trust (where we still can), corporate or partnership structure.
We have also been working with matrimonial, corporate and other colleagues to build in wider protections, such as cohabitation and pre-nuptial agreements for those receiving assets, suitable “permitted family member” provisions in company articles, shareholders’ agreements and family charters.
What is your proudest professional achievement?
I think it’s forming these “retainer” client and intermediary relationships over what is quite a length of time now, whilst (if I may bring a personal note in) balancing multiple caring responsibilities. I like to think that all of that makes me empathetic, where clients occasionally have to look into the abyss and times can be really tough. I like to minimise the legal “threats” for people and emphasise (and evidence) that we can cope with whatever comes. It is an enormous privilege to be taken into people’s confidence and for them to share what they want to achieve for those they love with me; that I have managed to do that for a very long time for a very good number of clients does allow me to feel some pride (lawyers not being known for their self-compassion!).
Who do you most admire and why?
I am attorney for a remarkable lady who is 101 in October. Whenever I pick up the phone to review things with her, as I have done weekly in lockdown, she has always begun the conversation with how she “must not grumble”, quickly going on to highlight any extraordinary expenditure of hers from her accounts and ending the always lively conversation by thanking me so much for all I do and sending me “lots of love”. She seems truly excited that as lockdown lifts I may have the opportunity to pass her way soon. While acknowledging her good fortune in terms of her health, I admire her positive mental attitude and acuity at such a tremendous age. Her long life has sent her a number of curve balls, but she has always focussed on what she has and talking to her makes you feel appreciated and just great. What’s not to admire?
First place you’ll be travelling to post COVID-19?
My daughter is keen to repeat a 2019 “girls’ Mediterranean tour”. They certainly had us well drilled in hand sanitisation while aboard (“washy, washy!” was the greeting to every meal), but I must admit I have reflected with gratitude that COVID was not something I had ever heard of when stepping on board.
Certainly, we hope to be in Salcombe in October as we are every year, otherwise we will really feel that the world has rocked off its axis (if we didn’t already).
Top tips for WFH?
Routine – both while you are at your desk, and also in terms of how you break the working day up. My final formula (after many iterations and wagon slips) has boiled down to an early morning dog walk, a lunchtime bike ride (fair weather in truth) and an evening work out.
Everyone is different, but exercise has definitely saved me!
If you weren’t in the wealth management industry, what else might you be doing?
Psychology really appeals. I love people and working out how to make them feel “better” (an interesting word) from an evidence basis really would appeal to me. Plus it strikes me that psychologists are very in demand and can name their time, place and price!