Citywealth speaks to David Wallace Wilson, member of Citywealth's Leaders List (click here to check David Wallace Wilson's Leaders List profile) and Partner at Schellenberg Wittmer who also acts as head of the Private Wealth practice in Geneva.
Tell Citywealth’s readers about your role.
I’ve been with Schellenberg Wittmer for 20 years, where I now act as head of our Private Wealth practice in Geneva. Our first-tier Private Wealth group covers the full range of contentious and non-contentious issues, representing individuals, families and closely-held family businesses, banks, family offices and trust companies in estate planning and in disputes. Thus, as an international lawyer qualified in Switzerland and in New York, my main work consists in advising these clients on international wealth structuring, asset protection and tax planning. I also act in their complex guardianship and inheritance disputes, including administering successions.
Alongside this day job, I’ve always been quite involved in education, especially via the Society of Trusts & Estate Practitioners (STEP), and within the Swiss trust industry. Thus, in Switzerland, I acted as chairman of STEP Geneva, where I served as officer for 16 years; while on the global level, I was a co-editor of the Trust Quarterly Review, then one of the initial committee members of STEP’s Contentious Trusts & Estates SIG (special interest group) and lastly as officer of its International Clients SIG.
Today, I continue working on the SATC's Advisory Board (Swiss Association of Trust Companies), whose purpose is to ensure high level of quality and integrity in the trust business in Switzerland. And as SATC and STEP designated voluntary (!), I did spend the last couple of years lobbying on the new trustee licensing regulations with the Swiss authorities. Finally, I'm the founder of Trusts.ch, which is (since 2001) the leading website on trusts in Switzerland and that I try (at night) to keep updated with the latest caselaw and topical articles.
What are the most pressing issues you are dealing with in your role at the moment?
Possibly related to the current tough times (Covid, war, recession), I’m witnessing an increasing trend towards succession and trust disputes; as the baby boomers are slowly fading away, we are currently involved with two multi-billion inheritance disputes, one of which relates to testamentary capacity and undue influence. There also have been pressing requests by trustees for urgent advice on sanctions against Russia, albeit I believe this will be temporary.
These uncertain times have also led to increased advice on asset protection. In particular, we take some pride in defending international clients against automatic exchange of information into their home country, especially in those countries lacking of rule of law guarantees.
How would your clients describe you?
Among the numerous client quotes issued along the years, I do recall “really knowledgeable and very hardworking", “a high-calibre and dynamic lawyer” and – last but not least – even a boastful “unrivalled according to peers”.
More recently, I’ve been dubbed “Mr. Trust Law” for my work on the expert group commissioned by the Swiss Federal Justice Department to draft a Swiss trust law from scratch.
What are the most important skills and personal qualities for a private client lawyer specialised in trust and family issues?
As for skills, empathy is key; it is essential to be a very discerning listener (in this respect, I do believe that, on average, women lawyers hold an advantage over men). Among the personal qualities required, I would consider curiosity and responsiveness as the most important. These enable a practitioner to always stay on top of the increasingly-complex regulations
What does it mean to you to be a member of Citywealth’s Leaders List?
It is a privilege to be recognised by independent parties and feature alongside professional peers, especially Swiss, which I greatly admire.
What is the most valuable piece of advice you have been given?
“Stay hungry, stay humble.” This is especially relevant in relation to the client quotes above and my listing among Citywealth’s Leaders List!
Click here to check David Wallace Wilson's Leaders List profile