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60 seconds interview with Jonathan Burt of Harbottle & Lewis

11 September 2018

Karen Jones

Tell me about your role at Harbottle & Lewis?

I am a partner in the Private Capital Group of Harbottle & Lewis.  This covers a range of legal services in my core skills which are tax, trusts and estate planning, but also reputation management, property, corporate and family law.  I advise international entrepreneurs and wealth owners on their legal affairs.  My clients typically have a connection with the UK either through tax residency or domicile or through business interests or real estate.  In one way, my job is to advise on the use of capital resources; in another way it is to stop my clients getting into trouble.  Harbottle & Lewis is a big tech firm because of its focus on media and entertainment so I have found some interesting opportunities in this sector.

How has the private client industry changed?

The private client industry is in flux as it moves from confidentially and privacy of personal structures to a more open and transparent world.  In particular the automatic exchange of information under the common reporting standard  has been helpful in changing behaviours.  As a result, I advise on compliancy, not only with tax rules but regulatory law too. 

What lesson have you learnt?

I have firstly learned the importance of listening to my clients.  As a lawyer I find myself constantly tempted to interrupt them about some legal point but experience has shown that it is much better to listen.  Nowadays I try to ensure that a meeting with a client is 70% them talking to me.  I learned the other lessons when I was a young solicitor with Baker & McKenzie and we called them Marcovici’s maxims after one of the partners at the firm. Amongst them were “play by the rules or get out”, “make no new bad guys” and (crucially) “don’t make the other guy’s problem your problem”.  These are as true now as they were then.  They are the invariable laws of this business.

Tell us about interesting client instructions.

Probably one of the most forward looking ones was the creation of a philanthropic structure for an international client.  He transferred his business interests to the trust we set up.  It was an early example of “venture philanthropy” – the aim was to invest the profits of the business into community projects and then monitor whether or not these were successful or a good use of the money, through an organised semi-commercial framework.

What challenges do your clients face?

My clients are dealing with the consequences of the age of transparency.  Particularly ongoing structures which must have the right team of advisors in place.  I always tell my clients that the clue to the word “trustee” is in the name; they have to trust their trustee and accept the trustee will be part of their family’s lives going forward.  The other theme is the simplification of structures.  We are seeing families consider what they have put in place in the past and whether it will stand the test of time.  One issue is dealing with the compliance department of financial institutions; this in itself is driving reviews of affairs to simplify explanations as to what was put in place and why.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?

Paul Stibbard, Executive Vice Chairman of the Rothschild Trust, gave me the best advice which was to socialise more and not spend all my working hours in the office.  As I result I met my wife!

What was the last book you’ve read?

I am reading “The English Civil War – a People’s History”.  I am a historian by background and this is a very interesting insight into the turmoil of the 1640s.  Otherwise the last book I finished was the classic Doctor Who novel “Father Time” by an old friend of mine from the University of York.

How do you relax after a long day?

I like to get home in time to read my sons their bedtime stories.  My elder son and I are reading “Danny the Champion of the World” by Roald Dahl.  It is as excellent now as it was when I was eight myself.  I really enjoying spending time with my wife and boys and that helps me to relax.

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