Deidre O’Byrne


Stephen Liss

Building Broad Expertise

Editors’ Note

After completing his J.D. at Georgetown University Law Center and his LL.M. in Taxation at New York University School of Law, Stephen Liss joined the firm in 2001 before its merger with the U.K. firm Withers. Liss became a Partner in 2008. He is currently a Regional Practice Group Leader for the U.S.-International Wealth Planning team.

Deidre O’Byrne received her J.D. from Columbia University. She joined the firm as a Partner in 2008. She is a Regional Practice Group Leader for the U.S.-Family and Business Planning Group.

Firm Brief

Withers Bergman, LLP is a full service, international law firm that specializes in private client wealth planning with offices in New York; London; New Haven, Connecticut; Greenwich, Connecticut; Geneva; Milan, Hong Kong, and the British Virgin Islands. The firm (www.withersworldwide.com) was recently named North American Law Firm of the Year at the Private Client Awards put on by the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP). The firm has over 40 U.S. partners and 100 partners worldwide.

How did Bergman, Horowitz & Reynolds (BHR) in New Haven, Connecticut end up merging with Withers in London?

O’Byrne: Several of our largest clients have U.S. and U.K. connections, so some of the most senior partners at both firms already had strong working relationships before the merger. There was a mutual appreciation for each side’s technical skills as lawyers, and a belief that our cultures would be compatible. Both firms already had high profile international clients, and both firms wanted to grow strategically. Specifically, while Withers already had an office in Milan, they wanted to expand into the U.S. market. BHR had a long-standing New York practice, but no New York office. The merger provided the capital needed to open a Park Avenue office in New York and, shortly thereafter, we opened Geneva. Since then, we have established offices in Greenwich, Connecticut; Hong Kong, and the British Virgin Islands.

So you are just going to keep on expanding?

O’Byrne: We try to be opportunistic in identifying talented Partners who could join us laterally. With regard to offices, each office has been opened for a specific reason. For example, the Greenwich office was driven by our existing base of hedge fund and private equity fund clients.

Stephen, am I correct that you started with the firm directly out of school and made Partner seven years later?

Liss: I did. After the merger, the firm recommitted to its internal training and to developing new leadership. I was fortunate enough to have a number of mentors over the years who really contributed to my success.

People always talk about mentoring, but how did it work in your case?

Liss: Talking about mentoring and leadership development is easy, but few organizations really follow through. In our case, a number of specific reforms were introduced. We started by raising our standards and our expectations for summer associates. You need the best people filling your junior ranks so you get the mid-level and senior associates you want. This is particularly true for a firm with a unique practice like ours. You just can’t expect to hire international tax lawyers who are used to working on private client matters. Most of them end up working on big corporate transactions and it is very different work.

Once you get good people in, you need to provide them with opportunities to grow and develop as professionals. We deal with a myriad of issues when advising ultra high-net-worth families on complex tax issues. The goal is to assign projects that keep people just a little uncomfortable every day and let them reach for something.

The last thing is to not lose track of the business side of running a law firm. There has been a conscious effort to bring junior partners like Deidre and I into management functions.

O’Byrne: Withers Bergman also doesn’t let people over-specialize. It’s important that our attorneys understand the full spectrum of issues faced by our clients so we don’t miss opportunities or, on the negative side, plan them into a problem. The firm trains its new lawyers in all of our wealth planning groups and we all work to ensure each of our attorneys has a multi-dimensional skill set.

What made you decide to join Withers Bergman?

O’Byrne: I had a strong background in wealth planning from my old firm, but Withers Bergman offered me an opportunity to truly grow my practice. With the merger in 2002, Withers Bergman became the first international firm to dedicate itself to the business and personal interests of successful people, their families, and their advisors. It is an established firm that is continuing to grow.

I did my homework before joining, and it was clear that Withers was committed to bringing in talented individuals and giving young Partners support for growing their practices. I have been really impressed with the genuine collegial environment at Withers. The issues we deal with are complex, and it’s great to have so many colleagues to bounce ideas off of. People are always willing to help out on a project. The private client group is large, which is really unique. I feel very lucky to have been able to join such a sophisticated, international firm at this stage in my career.

Withers Bergman was recently named the North American Law Firm of the Year at the Private Client Awards. How did the firm reach this achievement?

Liss: It is really nice to be recognized for all the hard work we have put in. The merger clearly took both of the predecessor firms to a new level in terms of client quality, technical know-how, and prestige. This was a merger of equals, and once the partnership agreement was signed, the real work had just begun. The merger was an opportunity, but strategic lateral hires like Deidre added breadth and depth to our team, and a dedication to growing strong attorneys from within the firm succeeded in helping us take the next step. The award just recognized what we had been doing, and it’s really satisfying.

What is next for Withers Bergman?

O’Byrne: We’re not just going to rest on our laurels. As a law firm these days, you grow or you shrink; there is no status quo. But it’s our intention to growth strategically, and not just for the sake of growth. We will open more offices, lateral over more partners, and continue the internal development that has driven our growth over the past eight years. The goal is to become the undisputed leader in private client legal services. On both the domestic and international sides, we’re determined to be at the pinnacle of our profession and to remain there for a long time to come.