‘I can’t think of anywhere else I’d rather be...’
Retaining the family aspect of the traditional partnership structure was important for Gavin Farrell and his partners when they set up law firm Ferbrache and Farrell. Three years on, Amanda Eulenkamp met Advocate Farrell to talk about his career, the business and Guernsey
GAVIN FARRELL has an eclectic background.
Born in Britain to British parents, he moved to France at the tender age of six months old with his father’s job. He stayed in France until his early 20s, studying at university in Paris and qualifying for the French Bar.
He then moved to the UK, and spent time doing a PhD, some lecturing and gaining his English legal qualification. His career as a fully qualified English and French lawyer saw him acting for large businesses in Europe before his move to Guernsey.
‘Everything is down to timing,’ said Advocate Farrell.
‘I’d been primarily based in the financial services and funds team in the London office, which meant I had a broad corporate and M&A background.
‘I specialised in funds, which put me in a brilliant position for when I moved to Guernsey in 1999 – I was able to ride the wave of the huge development of the funds industry.’
He worked for many years for Ozannes, becoming a partner in 2003.
‘I could only be in awe of my fellow partners – Roger Perrot, Nic van Leuven, Rupert Evans, Peter Ferbrache and Peter Harwood. They were the biggest personalities at the Guernsey Bar at the time.’
Following the merger of Ozannes with Mourant, Gavin, together with Peter Ferbrache, Alastair Hargreaves and Martin Jones, decided that they wanted to establish their own partnership with a focus on culture and identity.
‘The aim was to try to go back to the true sense of partnership internally. That’s a lot easier to achieve when you’re in a smaller environment.
‘We were a band of nine when we opened in November 2016. We’re now nearly 20.
‘So we have grown consistently but the aim is not to grow for the sake of growing. In fact, we’d like to retain a very measured growth to make sure that we grow with the increased level of business, but without losing our sense of identity.
‘Culture is key for us. It’s very much a flat structure, which is partner-led for the clients – the client doesn’t just see the partner or the junior partner, but pretty much everyone. Internally, the key thing is for us to retain that family aspect of the traditional partnership structure, where everybody looks after their kith and kin, and everyone has a sense of belonging.’
To that end, the firm has put its meeting rooms upstairs, and kept everyone working together on the same floor, creating a good interaction where everyone knows each other.
But the strength of the firm doesn’t just lie with the bonding of the team.
‘We have a very strong following, from local individuals and firms through to international clients.
‘The blessing of our practice is that we benefit from Peter [Ferbrache] and his huge legal brain; his personality; his command of respect within the community generally,’ said Gavin.
The international message is key for Gavin, whose first language is French, mother tongue is English and was fluent in German: ‘I lived in Germany for a while and also did a Franco-German law degree – my spoken German is probably a bit rusty now.’
When it comes to Guernsey, the advocate is upbeat.
‘I think Guernsey is still a very strong place to do business,’ said Gavin, ‘although we do have to keep the flow of capital coming in.
‘The island is small and can be nimble, which I cross refer to our practice – if there’s a problem we can get together, thrash it out and be done in 10 minutes, as opposed to operating by committee and having to have a quorum.’
The firm is obviously doing something right, as Gavin is one of only two Guernsey lawyers to achieve a top tier ranking for corporate and finance including investment funds, in the Chambers & Partners UK Guide 2020.
The legal directory ranks law firms and their lawyers based purely on client feedback.
In the 2020 guide, Advocate Farrell was noted for his expertise advising on the formation and management of investment funds.
‘It’s a pleasure to work with Gavin,’ said one interviewee, adding: ‘He has extensive experience and a good pan-European knowledge.
‘His advice is always detailed, and he has the capacity to bring fresh ideas.’
While they continue to work internationally, Guernsey is very much the central hub in the spoke of where they reach.
‘I am wedded to Guernsey but I am not a Guernsey man,’ said Gavin.
‘But it’s where I live, it’s where my business is and where my children were born.
‘I can’t think of anywhere else I’d rather be.’