What do international legacy lawyers do?

Harriet Burt is a solicitor in Stone King’s International & Cross-Border Team. Every day is certainly different and here Harriet explains what her work involves and why she enjoys it.

Background

I started my law degree back in 2011 with the Open University, the same year my son was born. I knew that in order to progress my legal career I would have to get as much ‘hands-on’ experience as possible, so while I was studying I found a job working for a firm local to me in Shaftesbury, as a paralegal in the private client department. I found the general nature of the work interesting but I realised early on that I wanted the challenge of becoming a specialist in an area of law.

I graduated with a first class honours and immediately started my legal practice course at the University of West of England. I then went on to complete my training contract with the same Shaftesbury firm, where I qualified as a solicitor.

I had heard about the ‘cutting edge’ work they were doing in Stone King’s International and Cross Border department for charities, other solicitors and private clients and the more I found out about it, the more I wanted to be involved. I applied for the vacancy, I was delighted when I was offered the job and I can honestly say I haven’t looked back. The work is challenging and to some degree it felt as though I was back on my training contract during the first few months, but the training has been superb and I am now handling some quite complex matters and I am loving it – particularly my work with the charity legacy team.

What is the most enjoyable part of your job?

Working in the International and Cross Border team means that we deal with (almost) every jurisdiction in the world (which in itself is exciting) and as we are dealing with multiple jurisdictions, we often have to analyse complex conflicts of law and come up with solutions. Rarely do the laws between jurisdictions work well together, but it isn’t about thinking one law works better than the other or one law is wrong, they are just different and that is what makes it interesting.

However, if I had to distil the question into one element, I would say the most enjoyable part of my job is solving problems and creating solutions where there is conflict of law between jurisdictions. Moreover, sometimes there isn’t a solution that works precisely between jurisdictions, meaning we sometimes have to propose pragmatic solutions that work in our charity client’s best interests.

This often means I have the opportunity to work with different solicitor colleagues from other disciplines in the Charity Legacy Team, where we work together to solve some complex matters. Analysing the problems together as a team and giving charities a ‘one-stop-solution’ is exciting. It also means we don’t feel we are leaving anything out, we can ensure nothing is overlooked.

For example, we may be asked to help with an administration in a foreign jurisdiction where there is a contentious issue bubbling away. It could, for example, be the equivalent of a 1975 Act claim in an Asian estate one day, or the next day we could be making an application to the Dubai Shari’a court to ensure assets pass to UK charities rather than family members.

In those situations where ‘joined-up’ advice is essential, my colleagues are only a door away and we can solve charity legacy issues under one roof!

What do you like about legacy matter work?

The legacy work that I am often involved with is where charities are either beneficiaries or executors of a will and there are multiple jurisdictions involved. Interestingly we are not always directly involved with the administrations. Instead, other solicitors come to us for advice or the charity (who is either a beneficiary or executor) comes to us for advice because the cross-border elements have ground the matter to a standstill. Typically the advisors either don’t know how to proceed or the charities don’t agree with the approach being taken.

In terms of work-type, no matter is ever the same. Matters can range from: conflicts of law; ascertaining what law should apply; providing the correct documents; or producing the documents required by foreign jurisdictions. This can, for example, be the preparation of an affidavit of English law, so a foreign court has an opinion on how the law of England & Wales will apply, or it can be preparing an analysis of the cross-border position for a foreign lawyer, so they can understand, not only how the private international law in their own jurisdiction should apply, but also how it works in conjunction with the other involved jurisdictions.

Head of the International & Cross-Border team, Dan Harris had recently worked on a Charity Legacy matter which resulted in a £14m tax saving for two charity clients. This is a hugely rewarding result in every sense and I look forward to being able to provide similar results!

What do you do outside work?

Outside of work, my now 8 year old son keeps me very busy! We spend a lot of time outside and we love our holidays. Having time to de-stress, relax and have time with your family is important.

 

The law and practice referred to in this article has been paraphrased or summarised. It might not be up-to-date with changes in the law and we do not guarantee the accuracy of any information provided at the time of reading. It should not be construed or relied upon as legal advice in relation to a specific set of circumstances.

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