A new law firm for 2010: Berkeley Law

Date: 10 Dec 2009


Following the news that a team of four partners from LG were to depart, Citywealth dropped into hear about the future plans of the “fantastic four”: Tim Thornton-Jones, Glenn Hurstfield, Nick Rucker and Alex Ruffel make up the four. The first half of 2010 will see them create a new law firm called Berkeley Law.

The decision to break away

Thornton-Jones who has spent near to two decades at LG, said of the change. “I want to do it because I’ve just turned sixty but don’t want to retire. I have a good loyal client base and a lotmoreto offer. I think forming Berkeley Law is the logical way forward, it allows me to carry on enjoying working for myclients on my own terms.” Hurstfield who is on the campaign board of theHistoricRoyal Palaces, picks up the comment. “Tim’s upcoming retirement brought forward my own professional crossroads. The idea of our own, smaller boutique with less institutional structure appealed. I think we are the vanguard of private client for the future. We are going to set up as a limited company (instead of partnership as is usual in law firms) working with clients in a more entrepreneurial way.”

Nick Rucker explains why the idea of being more entrepreneurial interests him. “I was an investment bankerat one of thebig-nameinvestment banks previously andultra-wealthy people just didn’t get the same level of service as even the lowliest corporate clients. It was the main reason I left banking and returned to the law. I want to advise private clients on law but also on howto get the best out of banks, investment managersand investmentopportunities. If we know about jurisdictions and how to use their service providers and products we can bring more value to our clients. Private client used to be a fusty back water but it’s not like that now. There are super high net worths from emerging economies whoare, to all intents and purposes,personal conglomerates.”

“We are on the brink of a major reform in the way legal services are offered,” explains Thornton-Jones, “the idea thatvery soonwe can have a multi disciplinary practice and offer a total service really appeals.” I ask what this means in practice. Ruffel clarifies the point, “We know what we are good at and will stick to that but if we see companies of a similar calibre then Clementi will allow us to do business with them or partner.”

Thornton-Jones says Hurstfield and he will be with LG until the end of April 2010 to work out their contracts. Rucker and Ruffel will depart at the end of January and they aim to be up and running by May 1, 2010. Ruffel comments on the opening date. “It’s achievable,” she says, “with Nick and I leaving earlier we can do the leg work. We have to wait for Law Society approval but we can sort out technology and get a Berkeley Law constitution and some basic processes underway.” Hurstfield bolsters her comment, “Over the years you build up contacts and many people have stepped forward to help us with the start up.”


The team as a whole will be doing both UHNW UK and offshore work. Thornton-Jones has worked with family offices and trust companies his entire career. “We would have enough work if we just looked after our best clients.” he says. “Previous emphasis on UK domiciled and resident clients has had to change in the last two to three years because the Finance Act attacked trusts. Inow mainly service the expat community in Monaco who want to do things in the UK. I’m in Monaco one week in four.” he says. Thornton-Jones has also become expert at setting up international charities.

Ruffel adds, “I do seventy percent non UK, tax planning, trust and estate planning and immigration, with a particular practice in relocation to the UK from Eastern Europe and China and outside the EU. The balance is predominantly work for landedestates,who had the original family offices”

Rucker comments, “Virtually all of my work is non UK, non dom’s and resident non dom’s. I do a lot of trust and estate planning which involves big international structures and set up private offices for clients. I also work withinvestment funds and set up privateinvestmentfunds and vehiclesfor family members. My focus is servicing’stateless’clients and offering a private wealth tool kit.”

Hurstfield describes his practice as being similar in focus to Ruffel’s. “Thirty percent onshore and seventy percent offshore. Thirty percent are big landed clients with vast collections of fine art. Bigger ticket stuff is non UK with clients in places like Russia. Russians warm to my pro active style.” says Hurstfield.

The mission for the firm

“We’ve banned internal emails,” says Hurstfield, “and all important decisions will be made by the four of us. We don’t want management tiers and clients will come first.” Then he adds, “I think we will provide a better service than anyone else I’ve come across which means reacting and anticipating their needs. We don’t want to just be solicitors. We want to be an indispensable part of a clients life; someone who is there for them tirelessly.”

Thornton-Jones adds, “We want to give advice and put our money where our mouth is in helping them decide what avenues to choose.” Ruffel agrees, “We want to incentiviseall team members so everyone no matter what their input gets something in their pay packet.”

And a demonstration of their entrepreneurial ability? What would they advise a new 40 year old British client with a large fortune to do.

Thornton-Jones. “I would advise that they don’t let the tax tail wag the dog. Enjoy their money. Find out what really turns them on and do it. If they want to buy a yacht then they should do it. We won’t let them run out of money. They definitely shouldn’t ship it all offshore or live in Switzerland if it isn’t what they want.”

Rucker’s view is, “Look at personal and business risks and how to nullify them, whether creditor or family risk. I would recommend an investment review with credible third parties so if one bank, product or investment housegets into trouble, they have a sensiblecontingencyplan.”

Ruffel comments, “I’dlook atwhether they want tocontinue to be entrepreneurial and use their money or to look at asset protection or tax and succession planning. It’s then down how we can help achieve that.Which could meanintroducingthem to other clients to look at synergy and business growth potential.”

Summarising, Hurstfield adds, “I’d say we aren’t just tax lawyers. The most important thing for entrepreneurs is asset protection, against divorce and kids who might divorce. It’s commercial advice about protecting a fortune from lots of changes in their lives. Tax is a small part of it.”

Going the extra mile

Going back to their theme of service, Hurstfield gives an example of what he will do for his clients if necessary, “I have a very famous, female opera singer client. A few years ago, she was performing with a famous male singer in Amsterdam when she found out at short notice that she was going to be filmed in Brussels with no time to organise any of her stage outfitswhich were usually flown in from the US.I had another clientwho owns a high class boutique in Monaco,so Iflew down to Monacowith the opera singer, who was kitted out by the Monaco client and the show went on.”

Ruffel says it is about understanding the client. “For me seeing theother, privateside ofmanwho is the most aggressiveinbusinessandtalking to him about what matters most to him and sometimeshelping him work out what that is. That, to me, isone of the most interesting aspects of what we do.”

For Thornton-Jones, it’s looking at the family dynamics. “Some years ago, a clientwho was a well-to-do local farmerdied at a young age, leaving five daughters in their teens and their mother. The tax answer was to form them as a partnership. However none of the daughters got along with each other, they all had boyfriends who they eventually married and none of whom got on. I suspected a partnership would be a disaster. It was only by getting to know them I realised that. I spent two years sorting it out, so each ended up with a farm and house of their own and enough cash in the bank. That arrangement has lasted twenty years and still works well for them.”

Whatever the story, the theme that they all demonstrate is that what is important is client service. As Rucker says, “I find it funnywhen someone comes to see you aboutsomething as simple asa will and you end up looking after hundreds of millions of pounds of their wealth. Each meeting is always an acorn. You never know what will happen.”

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