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Five questions with George Merrylees, Partner, Wedlake Bell

In this exclusive interview, we delve into the dynamic world of offshore private client law with George Merrylees, one of our recent Patron Members. Beyond his legal expertise, George shares insights into his impactful contributions to the French business community in London and his efforts to foster stronger Franco-British relations.

George, can you share examples of how your expertise in cross-border tax planning and asset structuring has helped international clients?  

As an offshore private client lawyer, I focus on tax, asset structuring and succession planning working closely with high-net-worth families, fund managers, business owners and family offices.  

Looking back at my career to date, I am very proud of my involvement in supporting the French business community in London and of course, promoting Franco-British relations. I might be biased, but has there ever been a more successful post-war expat community in the UK? 

While I would like to regale you with stories of how I ensure that my clients are paying their fair share of tax, especially on their carried interest structures and business interests, the example I would like to share is somewhat different.  

As the readers will recall, the years that followed the Brexit referendum created much anxiety and uncertainty for EU citizens. Emotions were running high. I soon realised that faced with so much information (often misinformation), it was difficult for the UK's French community to understand their rights and essentially to protect themselves and their families. I had the expertise, or at least access to the experts and so it became important for me to share my knowledge with the French community as a whole and not just my clients. It was for this reason that I (and my team at the time) wrote numerous articles on taxation and immigration, and spoke at EU-lead Brexit conferences and French political hustings (whatever their flavour).  

You are on the Advisory Council of the French Chamber of Commerce, the chairman of the Franco-British Society and serve as an alumni representative on the Franco-British Young Leaders Board. How do these roles contribute to your understanding of client's needs on a global scale? 

In my opinion, private client lawyers are the General practitioners of the legal industry. To be a private client lawyer, it is a given that you need to understand the client's situation. However, what makes an excellent private client lawyer, is the one who takes time to understand (1) the client's business and (2) the client's culture. 

Through learning, listening and exchanging ideas, these roles at the Chamber, the Society and within the Young Leaders have given me access to the most remarkable individuals. However, more importantly, these roles have given me fantastic access to understanding the environment in which my French client base operates. It has helped me to understand what makes them tick, what worries them, the environment in which their journey is unfolding and how I can be most effective in communicating with them.  

The Government has recently announced drastic changes to the taxation of UK non-doms. Indeed James Kessler KC, a leading UK tax commentator has referred to it in his publication as a revolution. What would you tell our readers? 

The intentions are to abolish domicile as a connecting factor for personal tax purposes, to remove most of the tax incentives currently afforded to the internationally mobile and to erode substantially the tax advantages of non-UK structures. The knock-on effects are still being understood and we are waiting for the draft legislation. It is a widely held view in the industry that these changes are fundamentally political, and so it is highly likely that there are going to be some damaging and unforeseen consequences for both individuals and businesses looking to bring people to the UK. This will especially be the case if the new legislation is rushed through parliament. 

We just need to watch this space and ensure that the French business community is ready.  

Wedlake Bell operates on a four-practice group model: private client, business services, real estate and dispute resolution. How does this multi-practice approach enhance the firm's capacity to address diverse client needs and effectively navigate complex legal challenges? 

Our collegiate culture and collaborative approach underpinned by depth in multiple practice areas (being a full service firm) allows us to service seamlessly all aspects of our clients' personal and business needs.  Having a multi- disciplinary team of lawyers all under one roof ensures that our clients have specialist advice as they need it. The culture of the firm ensures that the different teams within the firm work seamlessly with each other. The firm encourages collaboration at all levels and we promote a non-hierarchical structure across the board. In addition, the size of the firm allows us to act nimbly whilst also having depth where required. 

Your firm aims to empower clients by providing quality legal advice, insight and intelligence that enables them to achieve their goals whether personal or business. Could you please provide more details on the specific initiatives or practices your firm employs to fulfil this mission? 

At Wedlake Bell, we have a strong team culture, and the ability to collaborate on client matters and discuss and share thoughts on thorny legal issues.  We delegate/ supervise efficiently, which enables us to deliver the best service to our clients.  We enjoy long-term relationships with clients and our partners invest significant personal time in getting to know our clients.  This includes regular client management reviews. We keep our clients up to date on legal developments by utilising the full range of channels available to us be that digital/social media or team-on-team events.   

Contemporary London law firm, rooted in tradition with a lasting legacy of client service.

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