William is a litigation partner at Harneys, based in the firm’s London office. He began his career as a solicitor in Dublin before moving offshore in 2006. He has worked in both the British Virgin Islands and the Cayman Islands, and has been involved in some of the largest disputes to ever go through the courts there.
Harneys is a global offshore law firm offering advice on the laws of the BVI, Cayman, Cyprus, Bermuda, and Anguilla from 12 offices around the world. The firm’s clients include many of the world’s top law firms, financial institutions, and investment funds, as well as high net worth individuals.
It is a full service firm, with expertise across all major transactional, contentious, and private client disciplines.
You moved offshore fairly early in your career. What prompted you to make the move at that stage?
I trained with the Dublin office of another leading offshore firm. Upon qualification I had the opportunity to take an 18 month secondment in their Cayman Islands office and 6 months in their BVI office. I was hankering to leave Dublin upon qualification so packed my Factor 1000 (only available in Ireland) and was on my way!
Were your family surprised by your decision?
No. I’m lucky to have parents and siblings who have travelled extensively. By the time I qualified, I had already lived in several countries before making the offshore decision. On reflection, my parents always encouraged any decision that involved me not moving back in with them – read into that what you will!
How did you feel during your first 12 months in Cayman?
It was pretty seamless for me, to be honest. You have to remember that everyone has been in the same situation as you and that encourages a really friendly atmosphere. Everyone wants to share their tips for settling in. Major firms such as Harneys have orientation programmes to assist the new starters both in terms of office life and getting
set up on island. I’m always pleasantly surprised at the efforts people go to at Harneys to make sure their new colleagues feel as welcome as possible. I remember a colleague saying that “every weekend was a holiday in the Caribbean” and I don’t think I’ve heard a better way to sum up the experience.
How different is the work and how did you adapt yourself?
The quality of work was excellent. I was immediately working for blue chip clients and grappling with the fused profession role of a Cayman Islands attorney. One choice all litigators will tell you they made was between the bar and becoming a solicitor. I chose the latter after much debate but I immediately realised in Cayman that you didn’t have to make a choice. In my personal view, I became a much stronger lawyer having to deal with the heavy lifting of preparing legal submissions and then presenting them in Court. I found my focus intensified greatly when I knew the judge would be peering down saying my surname!
Aside from the law itself, how does the working style differ offshore?
The working style is reassuringly similar to a city firm in terms of team structure and infrastructure of the practice. The key difference everyone notices is the hassle free commute to work. I think everyone (particularly lawyers who have moved from London) finds that a hugely attractive factor.
Many people onshore assume that offshore lawyers only advise on small aspects of disputes. Are they right?
They couldn’t be more wrong! As litigators, we take the view that the Cayman Courts are ours – we practise in them and we know what points vex and interest certain judges – more importantly, we know the ones that don’t. Of course, we take a collaborative approach given the extensive cross border nature of our work but we are the driving force of the litigation strategy and work content. As I touched on before, the fused profession aspect of being an attorney really allows you to get invested in the matter and you never feel like you are on the outside looking in. For me, one of the most enjoyable aspects of the job is working with major law firms in London and New York as collectively you tackle problems through different lenses and that often leads to an innovative approach to any hurdle.
You’ve worked in both Cayman and the British Virgin Islands. Which was your favourite?
This is an extremely tough question! Allow me to don my diplomatic beret. They are both fantastic places in different ways. Reassuringly, both have high quality work so that does not tend to be a deciding factor for candidates.
The BVI has some of the most spectacular sights I have ever seen in my life. When you are leaving a neighbouring small island with a Red Stripe in your hand, sailing into a sunset, you definitely pat yourself on the back for the decision to move abroad. The way the BVI has bounced back after Irma has been equally incredible. As the largest firm in the BVI we are proud to say we have played a role in that recovery and look forward to continuing to do so. A truly devastating storm has led to some amazing stories about the BVI community and its people. I am very lucky to say I have lived there.
Cayman is equally beautiful but as my Caymanian friends will tell you, the beauty that will blow your mind is under the water, with Cayman regularly ranked in the top 5 dive locations in the world. Cayman also boasts a host of restaurants and bars to while away lazy Friday nights.
In short, score draw!
Away from the office, what are the best and worst things about living on a Caribbean island?
The best thing for me was the outdoors life. I love running and Cayman is perfect for that! It’s flat and hot – ideal conditions for me to fail to register any personal bests. Also, as I mentioned before, there is a real sense of community. People look after each other. I also find that being on the doorstep of America is incredible as Miami is a gateway to so many
phenomenal destinations. When I was back in Cayman for most of last year on the Saad litigation I was able to bore people about my weekend road trips around Nashville, New Orleans and the North Carolina mountains. I’m sure I was amazing company and not at all annoying recounting those tales.
The worst thing is living in a different time zone to your friends and family. That said, with Face Time and WhatsApp, everyone feels a lot closer than they did when I moved offshore in 2006. Also, Percy Pigs are not available on island. I don’t think I ever truly came
to terms with the devastating lack of access to that particular piece of confectionary.
How has the offshore world changed during your career?
First, I think it has changed in terms of more people becoming aware of the amazing opportunities working offshore can provide. That, in turn, means the calibre of lawyering is second to none. It’s incredibly reassuring to see the quality of CVs that Taylor Root can provide and walking around Harneys I’m constantly bowled over by the talent around me.
Second, the Courts have adapted to meet the challenges of sophisticated multi-billion dollar cross border litigation. The Cayman Islands Grand Court recently heard the 13 month Saad litigation trial where Harneys acted for the office holders of a defendant SPV. The Court accommodated between 40 to 60 professionals on any given day with swathes of evidence via video-link from Saudi Arabia. This was all done without interruption and demonstrated
Cayman’s ability to seamlessly conduct major trials.
Third, the Cayman Islands has changed extensively in terms of building work and infrastructure. A friend who joined me recently for a holiday said it was an amazing blend of American home comforts and the authentic Caribbean experience. I should point out to anyone moving to an exotic location, lots of people you haven’t spoken to in years will look to reconnect!
With the benefit of hindsight, do you think you would have enjoyed your career as much if you hadn’t moved offshore?
I have never once regretted my decision to move off-shore. Although I am now based in Harneys’ London office I still spend a significant amount of time back there. My colleagues often note my availability for trips between January and March!
A move off-shore broadens your legal skills and horizons. What could be better than that?
Years spent working offshore?
Favourite weekend activity?
Cayman – running along seven mile beach.
BVI – sailing
If you weren’t a lawyer, which other job would you want on the island?
The guy who sells coconuts out of a shopping trolley swilling rum all day. I would be perfectly qualified for that position.
Highest profile case you’ve worked on?
Saad litigation – I am the lead partner acting for the office holder defendants in a US$9.2bn claim.
Best evening spot in Cayman?
Calico Jack’s on Seven Mile Beach
Best beach in the BVI?
If you would be interested in joining Harneys or for more information about the offshore market contact: Benedict Roberts, at +44 (0)20 7332 2141