Mark Buzzoni, Head of Private Client, Taylor Wessing

Date: 02 Nov 2007


Mark Buzzoni, started his career became a partner in 1983 at a London private client firm, rising to the heady heights of Head of Private Client with ease. He says of his first firm: “It was great fun but wasn’t very successful financially.” It eventually got taken over by Speechley Bircham, but before the handover Mark departed for another niche private client firm called Alexanders joining a leading light of its day, Professor Tony Mellows, who wrote and lectured on trusts. “The work was very interesting and I managed to build up the client base significantly on the offshore side but recruitment and growth were difficult because people didn’t want to join us. They wanted a firm with a big name.” says Mark. Astutely he recognised the business would hit a wall so set his sites on a larger firm with more expansion capability. An offer to join Taylor Joynson Garrett promptly arrived. Taylor Joynson Garrett latterly became Taylor Wessing as it is still known today. Mark confirms. “I joined seven years ago and it was a great move for me and the firm. They are a significant name and the private client team has continually improved: we have grown by thirty six percent in the last two years.”

From independent accounts and his own, Mark is doing extremely well. He specialises in tax and trusts, which he says is ‘the engine’ of the practice but also adds. “We look after wealthy individuals across their needs which might be anything including family or matrimonial. We get a lot of spin off uhnw work from dealing with trusts initially.”

As with most private client firms these days, there is a large amount of international work which Mark puts down to private clients wanting law firms for both personal and business issues. “There is increasingly a complex foreign element that we find clients choose us for, despite high City fees. I suspect that this is the way the market is moving. Quite a lot of work surrounds private equity or funds, we have former bankers who’ve become private clients and families who have exited business and got large amounts of cash, engaged in activities all over the world.” Mark says there isn’t really any geographical focus but Taylor Wessing has strong connections with the Middle East with their Key & Dixon affiliation in Dubai. “One of our partners, James Ferguson Robertson acts for some substantial families. The key to getting Middle East clients is knowing the family.”

Mark says that the Euro capability for Taylor Wessing is strong. “We are nearly as big in Germany as the UK. We are small but substantial in Paris and Brussels too.” He says this European foothold helps, not because there is a large amount of business more for covering the bases that private banks need to service.

Mark also believes that the fusion of business and private client law will have an effect on law firm structures. “It’s too late for Magic Circle firms to return to private client now but I think mid size firms can win in future. I think there will be more focus on private clients even in corporate law firms as the market expands. Private client will become a more positive place to be and will finally diminish this perception that it is a poor relation to be dissolved at any time. There will be more of a positive focus on growing this business. We plan for it to be a key differentiator.”

The private client department, of which Mark is head, has eight partners and thirty fee earners. “We have one specialist matrimonial partner, one residential, one working on estates and the rest doing general trust and tax work across all the associates. We try to avoid having associates dedicated to just one partner to keep the work interesting.” Mark says the private client team is contributing 7% to the business turnover of Taylor Wessing UK and adds. “We, in the private client team are ambitious to grow. We want more critical mass. We plan some partner appointments, by bringing people coming up through the ranks and with lateral hires. We are a little too heavy at the top end of the age range so are looking to address this.”

Mark does regular visits to CI, Switzerland and Bermuda and says that the Channel Islands is a preferred trust referral spot simply because of convenience. “It’s a good default location for clients particularly for matrimonial and tax reasons.”[a1] Then refers back to an earlier point. “If you are talking about trends, we are quite keen on matrimonial because a wife or husband leaving can deplete wealth more than any tax man can. We are seeing a lot more on this than ever before in terms of discussing pre n-ups and asset protection.”

Mark says the other trend he has noticed, is the sheer amount of wealth in London. “It’s become common place to have ¬£30mn from exiting a business deal or even ¬£100mn and we see people with billions. Money seems to be in much larger amounts these days, which I think favours firms with a mixture of capability like Taylor Wessing. If a client wants an OEIC, they don’t have to leave us, we can deal with it.”

Mark sees competition for work from Macfarlanes, Withers, LG and Baker & Mckenzie although says that in his eyes, Withers seem more niche private client, LG more institutional and Middle Eastern and Baker & McKenzie litigation focused. As to how he wins his slice of the private client pie, he says. “I get referrals by sometimes being innovative, doing a good job and being reliable. In my view, making referrals is dangerous. If you send clients to a lawyer and it doesn’t work out, it will rebound on the referrer. It isn’t just about reciprocals, and being clever.”

On the trust side, Mark is looking at alternatives to trusts and says that although the drivers behind trusts and asset protection, are still good reasons for having trusts the tax situation in the UK has made limited liability partnerships more interesting. “To separate assets from an owners ownership from control we are looking at whether we can fund trusts without incurring inheritance tax and partnership structures can work. The core idea is that you may have a partner with voting control, but no control ownership of the business. This is where it’s quite important to have corporate capability, if you need effective advice on forming a LLP, we have it. A specialised private client firm is going to have to hand the work to someone else.”

Of the work Mark is dealing with he says he is working on an interesting case at the moment, which is an existing structure where an Italian family member has died leaving property to pass on according to Italian law. “It’s quasi life interest where the capital belongs to the child but income to the mother. The mother and child moved to the UK but the child is a US citizen. The trust was turned into a Jersey trust but it has intricate US/UK tax issues about investment. We have a couple of firms involved including Charles Russell and its getting very technical.”

I ask for his view of big changes in the industry over his lifetime. “Private client has gone from being un sexy to sexy: essentially the value has gone up. It has more recognition in terms of gaining the loyalty and trust of clients and getting repeat business.”

Finishing off, he tells us more about growth plans at Taylor Wessing. “The number of associates we have has grown and we need more but we don’t take the 4 5 year qualified lawyers out of competitor firms. We look for people in other areas who aren’t direct competitors both inside and outside of London and then train them. We find the drive and intelligence we want and prefer to give them knowledge internally. At the moment, salaries are on an upward trend, which is taxing, particularly at the non newly qualified end.”

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