Withers serves high-net-worth individuals

The law firm talks about what it will be offering from its latest office in Hong Kong.
Withers, a law firm for high-net-worth individuals, recently opened a Hong Kong office located in Central with seven lawyers. We talk to managing director Margaret Robertson who flew in from London for the opening and executive director (Asia) Francis Lee about the firm.

Tell us a little bit about Withers?

Robertson: Withers has been around in London since 1896 when it was founded and it has already had a slightly unusual focus in that its business evolves around individuals and their families. Now those interests can be their business interests, it can be their interests in looking after their possessions, it could be their divorces, it could be all sorts of things but itÆs a one-stop shop in looking through the lens of the individual.

That makes us quite different from most other law firms who are really focused on the corporate interests and all the rest of it. But traditionally while that has been seen as where the big money is, weÆve been focused on the people who were behind those big corporations û the chief executives, the shareholders, etc. And indeed in the 21st century weÆre seeing the creation of new wealth rapidly that in some ways itÆs more interesting to be focused on the people behind the companies themselves.

You have a US office too, donÆt you?

Robertson: In 2002, we decided to open up a US firm and linked up with a firm called Bergman Horowitz & Reynolds whom weÆve done a lot of work with before. What we saw in the past, and weÆre now seeing a lot more of, is that there are people who want to structure their wealth in instruments from the US and the UK, regardless of the actual jurisdiction of the underlying families. They just want to structure their wealth in a way that is efficient.

So why Hong Kong now?

Robertson: Since we did our US merger, weÆve always felt that we would want to come to Asia at some stage. Demographics show that private wealth is likely to grow here faster than anywhere else. And also, for historical reasons, a lot of the law firms in Asia have gotten out of private wealth management and have actually left it to the accountants so we saw a market opportunity.

WeÆve been looking at it for awhile and we thought about where in Asia we should start from. Obviously Hong Kong makes sense because weÆre sitting on the doorsteps of China. Five years ago, the wealth market in China was not as clear as it is now. It is very clear now that there is interest in structuring wealth in China now.

Lee: The Hong Kong office can be viewed as a portal to Withers worldwide legal and structuring expertise for HNW individuals, their families, their commercial and other interests. From the Hong Kong office, we can access legal expertise in brands & intellectual properties, divorce and family law, family offices and family businesses, trust and succession planning, wealth structuring, wills, cultural assets & art, charities and philanthropy...and the list goes on. In short, we can advise on wealth and its lifecycles as related to the HNW individuals from Hong Kong in all aspects.

If you think of what happened now in China compared to five years ago, you now have the ability of entrepreneurs to send more money outside of China, the QDII, the funds set up offshore. WeÆre seeing basically, all types of opportunities. Think about private equity and Chinese investors. You used to see only foreign direct investments going into China now you see Chinese making foreign direct investments outside of China, by Chinese. So thereÆs the distinction.

Tell us more about the types of issues you handle.

Lee: From the outset, Withers will offer integrated international advice, providing a comprehensive range of US and English tax, international trust and commercial solutions. Hong Kong tax and commercial advice will also be available from March.

In general, advice will cover succession and estate planning, inbound and outbound investment, capital raising, funds creation, family office structuring, philanthropy and art law. As a number of the team are fluent in Cantonese and Mandarin, we are able to advise in a variety of languages.
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