Two English barristers have established the first set of chambers in the Cayman Islands. The launch of International Chancery and Trusts Chambers comes in response to the increasing internationalisation of their work as well as their personal ties to the Islands, say Shân Warnock-Smith QC and Andrew de la Rosa.
Warnock-Smith and de la Rosa are not new to the Cayman Islands. In the past both have come regularly to Cayman for consultations or to represent clients in court, benefitting from the local practice to allow UK counsel from the English Bar in London to appear in its courts.
In addition, the experts in litigation and advisory in relation to fiduciary services, in particular trusts, succession and wealth structuring, realised that over time they have established a very close connection to the Islands.
“When this idea was first taking shape, we recognised that probably the majority of our friends and people we like most to deal with in our profession are actually here,” says de la Rosa.
While the duo will also maintain a London base at 5 Stone Buildings, Cayman will be the new home.
“We are based here, except when we have to be somewhere else,” says Warnock-Smith. “We have international practices, which takes us all around the world,” she adds, explaining that the pair works on cases in Hong Kong, Bermuda, the BVI, the UK and Dubai. “So really we are using this as our global hub and we have our Chambers in London as well”, she says, to serve clients around the globe.
At the same time the Cayman Islands location enables ICT Chambers to offer on-the-spot services in this time zone and direct services to Cayman clients, as both barristers have obtained work permits and general admission to the Cayman Bar. “We are ready to advise and to go into court at a moment’s notice without any additional formality as it is usually the case, with a UK counsel coming here. But also it is a very convenient place from which to advise US clients and there are increasing numbers,” she says.
As international wealth is becoming increasingly mobile, with a lot of wealth moving from east, China and India, to west, including the Cayman Islands, the setup of two bases, one in Cayman and one in the UK, is a reflection of that mobility.
When deciding on whether to come to Cayman and in particular in the wake of the 2008 crash, De la Rosa says, a lot of the people he spoke to locally were “pretty downcast on the prospects of Cayman”.
But he disagrees and points to the excellent reputation of the jurisdiction in other financial centres. He says that although a lot of places are trying to position themselves as financial centres, a successful financial centre needs three things: a resident base of professionals of the right calibre, an established judicial system and a proactive government that keeps up to date with legislation.
In particular the quality of the financial services professionals and the judicial system are important factors to their work. In Cayman you have judges who largely come from the financial services industry and the Chief Justice has authored some of the most significant trust judgments in the offshore universe, says Warnock-Smith.
“We are regarding Cayman as the pre-eminent jurisdiction and we are not saying that because we are here. We are here, because it is.”
The fact that nobody else has done it was also appealing.
The concept of Chambers is based on the English model, where barristers, who are independent and self-employed, group together to share chambers, or office space, and the services of clerks and other administrative services.
“What we have done is to carry that concept over here and that is the way we operate. We are Cayman attorneys but we operate on a referral basis from the local law firms,” she explains.
The idea has engendered “quite a bit of debate” in the legal profession, Warnock-Smith admits, but she hopes to demonstrate that their specialist offering in advisory and litigation will be recognised as a valuable resource for the local legal community.
In particular trusts are a very technical field that not only require a good grasp of the legal technicalities but also “an understanding of clients’ expectations and needs and how families work in relation to wealth”, she says. Trust litigation itself is also a rather “special animal”, she notes, which often requires that trust litigators also have experience in trust advisory work and structuring to understand the proper technical underpinnings. Most members of the local legal profession are used to dealing with barristers, adds de la Rosa, saying that chambers is just the historical description of how barristers are organised.
“As far as we are concerned it signifies that we are independent counsel,” he says. “I am a great believer in the characteristic of the Bar being independent advice and we are one removed from the ultimate client. I start a lot of my conferences by saying my function in all of this is what a court will make of this claim or this defence or this structure, if it is challenged. And being at one removed from the ultimate client helps preserve that degree of ultimate objectivity.”
At the same time the pair does not want to be “old-fashioned, stuffy barristers”, Warnock-Smith says. “That’s not what we are.”