In the latest of our series profiling the new breed of alternative business structure (ABS), we speak to Red Square London, a law firm and multi-disciplinary family office that provides services mainly to wealthy Russian and Russian-speaking clients.
Red Square London, based in Pall Mall, assists high-net worth individuals and their families with various “discreet and personal” services, such as real estate, banking, translations and notary services, and family support, from immigration visas, to conveyancing, to concierge-type services.
Red Square director and co-founder, company law solicitor Tatiana Nevard, says the ABS has been central to the business’s growth since it received its licence last spring . Having an integrated, one-stop shop operation has been essential to offering clients a range of legal and non-legal services seamlessly.
“It has helped enormously in our case,” Ms Nevard said. “If it was a traditional law firm, for various reasons they would not be able to spend time, for instance, on negotiating with painters and decorators after arranging a house purchase… because, first of all, fee-earners are under enormous constraints as to billing hours… We have a junior family office associate who does exactly that.”
International tension over Russia’s intervention in the Crimea has not affected the businesses, Ms Nevard reported. “We haven’t noticed any slowdown at all. Because 90% of our business is with the families who are already here, referrals are from [them].”
She said the early months after receiving the ABS licence were taken up with working out what services clients wanted and building the business accordingly. “It took us a good few months to understand what legal services we needed to provide, which specialists we needed to have, and what areas of law or business we needed to focus on as advisers.”
Red Square’s legal division is now set for expansion, with two solicitors due to join Ms Nevard – currently the only solicitor member – in the autumn. On the family office side, she said she hoped to have another associate join the business by Christmas.
The firm has partnerships with a private bank, Brown Shipley, and with a Moscow-based “boutique real estate consultancy”, Terra Real Estate.
A flavour of the sort of target clients can be found in Red Square’s newsletter, Novosti, which has advertisements for a three-bedroom London property priced at £6.5m and a two-bedroom Knightsbridge apartment to rent at £4,750 per week.
Ms Nevard described the clients as falling into three categories: businessmen who were not based in the UK but “who travel, have businesses here, but are not interested in relocating”. The second category was families, for instance with children, who need to relocate, and the third, businesses that are UK companies with an element of Russian interest in the ownership.
Family clients held potential for work that started as immigration cases, for instance an investor visa, but escalated into a range of commercial, property, and private client matters. Ms Nevard gave the example of a family of two parents with three children – one over 18 who due to her age could not be added as a dependant under an investor visa. The firm reached a solution that involved obtaining investor visas for the mother and oldest daughter, with the husband and the other two children added to the mother’s visa.
The firm then assisted the family with their banking needs, including investment of the funds required for the investor visas. The family then needed to buy a home, which required renovation and furniture, and a car, all of which Red Square helped provide over 18 months. “That is a very good example of how we started as a business consultancy and then became an ABS… we stayed a family office but with a legal capacity,” she said.
Speaking the Russian language – three of Red Square’s five-person senior team are bilingual – is a “massive advantage”, but “I would stress that the language is not enough”, she said. Understanding the culture of clients, for instance, from the former Soviet republics of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan is vital.
“You have to adapt and adjust, and understand that sometimes they’re not shouting because they are angry… [but] that they probably don’t speak the language very well, they probably don’t know the rules, they are nervous their family’s lives are on the line, and they are looking to you to ensure that their children are safe, they are safe, their business is safe, their money is safe.”