Sébastien Collart, dual qualified lawyer in Switzerland and England & Wales, shares his insights on practising in Switzerland
Why did you choose to practise in Switzerland?
I was born in Geneva and read law at Geneva University Law School before qualifying as a lawyer in 2008. As a dual national holding Swiss and British passports, I have always been navigating between Switzerland and England, where part of my family lives. Having recently qualified as a solicitor in England & Wales, my focus on England has increased for work purposes.
Tell us a bit about your firm and practice area there
100 RHONE AVOCATS is a boutique law firm which specialises in commercial law, banking, real estate, commercial litigation, white collar crime, and private clients. We advise both national and international clients on Swiss and cross-border transactions. I primarily focus on corporate and business law, contracts (both national and cross-border), M&A, private equity, real estate and FinTech (ICOs, STOs, DLT, and asset tokenisation).
What are the main opportunities for foreign law firms/lawyers in Switzerland?
The major cities in Switzerland offer many prospects for foreign law firms who conduct cross-border commercial activities. In particular, the city of Geneva has a long tradition of hosting international organisations. This acknowledges not only its pivotal role in terms of cooperation but also its position at the forefront of multilateral diplomacy. In addition to the private banking sector, Geneva is a major hub for trading and shipping companies for instance, and is currently confirming itself as a key player in FinTech.
Are there any challenges or obstacles?
Competition is fierce. Despite the fact the country is small, the market is vast and offers many opportunities depending on the sectors.
Do clients tend to prefer smaller local firms or larger international networks?
A lawyer’s response would be that it depends on the client’s specific needs. Generally speaking however, I believe clients are above all looking for trust, loyalty and reliability. Perfect command of the local market while simultaneously offering global connections and awareness, through international networks for instance, is probably a key element highly regarded by clients.
What recent legal developments you have seen in Switzerland?
On December 14, 2018, the Swiss Federal Council published a landmark report reviewing the impact of distributed ledger technology and blockchain technologies on the Swiss market, in particular on its financial sector. This report underlines the emphasis of the Federal Council on creating the best possible framework to confirm Switzerland as a leading, innovative and sustainable location for FinTech and DLT companies.
On May 19, 2019, the Swiss electorate voted to adopt the Federal Act on Tax Reform and AHV Financing (TRAF), confirming the reform of corporate taxation in Switzerland. In future, all companies will in principle be subject to the same rules on taxation. There will be tax incentives for investments in research and development. Some cantons still have to implement the measures on the cantonal level. In Geneva, where there is a high concentration of multinational companies, voters accepted a plan to set the baseline corporate rate for all companies at 13.99%. Previously, it had been 11.6% for “special status” companies, and 24.2% for others. This result cements Swiss competitiveness. TRAF should enter into force as early as 1 January 2020.
Are there any changes that may affect the legal profession and practice rights in Switzerland?
Mastering new disruptive and advancing technologies is key for lawyers worldwide. Failing to jump on the technology train will cause the downfall for many legal professionals. The degree of fast-paced innovation we are witnessing right now offers wide opportunities for lawyers to shape and determine how their work will be conducted in the future, for their clients’ and for their own benefit. AI, e-Justice, Legaltech, Regtech, Blockchain and DLTs, smart contracts, are just a few of the numerous fields and tools lawyers must be familiar with.
How do you think your firm or practice might be impacted by Brexit?
Brexit will have no negative impact on my firm. On the contrary, I believe it will create many opportunities to consolidate existing bridges and to build new lines of collaboration between the UK and Switzerland, in particular as regards their financial sectors.
What is your top tip for a lawyer moving to Switzerland?
Learn the local languages and cultures, integrate with the locals, not only with the other expats.
Finally, what is the one must-see or must-do thing you would recommend to a lawyer visiting Switzerland as a tourist?
The whole country is beautiful and has much to offer, being lakes or mountains with breath-taking views. In any case, come to Geneva in the summer, enjoy its lake, fine food and numerous parks and free concerts that take place in the summer months.
These views are the views of the author and not those of the Law Society