Advisory work: pensions and private client

If you want a career that will give you genuine intellectual stimulation every day then advisory work may be for you.

14 October 2016

By solicitor Hugo Holmes

If I had to sum up Burges Salmon in one word, it would be "variety". As Cate's blog post so vividly described it, being a trainee here can very much feel like being faced with a "pick n' mix" and for those who want to try a bit of everything, that's great. However, what about those who know that what they really want is just a big bag of fizzy cola bottles?

The answer to that is pretty much "here's a big bag of fizzy cola bottles". This is the beauty of the six-seat system. It allows for breadth, but also great depth if that’s what you want. The only seat that everyone does is dispute resolution. Although the firm’s business needs do take priority there’s a lot of freedom in how you do the rest of your training contract at Burges Salmon. If there’s a type of work you really enjoy then you can keep helping yourself from that jar and return to it for multiple seats.

I’m one of those people and have spent the majority of my training contract in “advisory” seats, which offer something a bit different. A lot of firms have a contentious/transactional split in their departments. However, in Burges Salmon there are several practice areas which don’t really fit into these categories. The largest of these are private client and pensions.

Each of them has transactional elements. For example, both private client corporate tax specialists and the pensions lawyers will get involved on big mergers and acquisitions, ironing out any problems with a deal relating to their areas of expertise. They both have contentious elements as well. Private client will conduct cases against HMRC. The pensions team gets involved in regulatory enforcement actions in a similar vein to the recent collapse of British Home Stores.

However, the bulk of these departments’ work is quite different. The legal base for both pensions and private client is made up of trusts law and tax law. Both of these feature complex and highly detailed regulations where the penalties for failing to follow the rules can be very expensive indeed. Therefore most of what these teams do is advise clients on long-term planning – for the welfare of their family in private client and to protect people’s retirement benefits in pensions.

This involves keeping an eye on the horizon and thinking around the problems as they come into view. In private client a marriage could break down or someone could become terminally ill. In pensions the company sponsoring a pension scheme could run into financial trouble, putting the scheme members’ pensions in jeopardy. In such politically sensitive areas there are also frequent and major changes in the law.

That probably all sounds rather stressful, so why did I opt to spend so much time doing this sort of work and ultimately to qualify into the pensions team?

Partly it’s the challenge. The law in these areas is not easy and so if you want a career that will give you genuine intellectual stimulation every day then advisory work may be for you. Also, even though there are big problems to wrestle with, the time-frames are different to contentious or transactional work. As a lot of the work is long-term, you’ll often be able to take the time you need to get into an issue and really understand it. Finally, it’s the people – not just the lawyers, but also the accountants, actuaries and consultants you work with. The long-term perspective and cerebral nature of the work tends to attract people who are careful and measured in their approach and who like a good puzzle.

The breadth of Burges Salmon means that there’s something for everyone here. You might want to test your wits and will against your rivals in contentious work. Alternatively you may get a thrill from driving a hard bargain in a transactional seat. However, if what you most enjoy is getting to the heart of complex questions then come and give advisory work a go.

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Advisory work: pensions and private client

This is the beauty of the six-seat system. It allows for breadth, but also great depth if that’s what you want.
Hugo Holmes, Solicitor

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