Laura Twomey: ’97 Partner, department head of Personal Planning Practice, Simpson Thacher. Press Creds: Her estate advice has been quoted in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, among others. Giving Back: Volunteer and leader, New York State and American Bar associations and American College of Trusts and Estates Counsel.
“Sometimes, there really is a will hidden behind a Picasso,” says Laura Twomey ’97, a top adviser to the ultra-wealthy, including many who have been featured on lists such as the World’s Billionaires, Forbes’s 400 Richest People in America, and Crain’s Highest-paid CEOs.
While family documents are usually stored in more likely places, Twomey’s days are full of all kinds of interesting revelations. “My work is fascinating because my clients are some of the smartest and most interesting people you could meet,” explains Twomey, head of Simpson Thacher’s Personal Planning Practice. “I represent CEOs of publicly traded companies, private equity fund managers, fashion designers, and artists. When they are planning for the next generation, they have complex, and often unusual, legal needs. Our practice is often the firm quarterback for our multi-generational families, working with groups like corporate or litigation, bringing a team together to serve the range of client needs.”
Twomey, based in New York, found her niche in trusts and estates early on. “I was drawn to tax law because tax is like math with words. I was an English major who was good at math,” says Twomey, who joined Simpson Thacher in 2009. The firm lured her from Fulbright & Jaworski, where she had helped develop trusts and estates into its most profitable group. Over the past decade, she has delivered similar results for Simpson Thacher.
Twomey describes her role as legal and emotional counselor. “The practice has both hard and soft issues,” she says. “There are very complicated tax law aspects, but you also have to have the ability to connect with clients over their underlying needs and understand their value systems. Many of our clients have very detailed or nuanced views about how money will impact their children and other family members and want to be very thoughtful to make sure inheritance will be empowering and not stifling.”
Business succession plans and shareholder agreements are just a couple of the areas in which Twomey has become an expert. “In my industry, most firms are about tax and maximizing inheritance for the kids, but in my practice, it’s more complex. With clients who have extraordinary wealth, we’re often helping them think through more elaborate plans, including using their good fortunes to make a real impact on society as they pursue their philanthropic passions,” she explains. “The responsibility felt a little overwhelming the first time a client asked me, ‘What am I supposed to do with all this?’ but it’s a privilege to help families think through what they can build and work toward it.”
Family dynamics can be tricky. “There can be very emotional reactions in trust creation,” Twomey says. “Just because there’s a trust doesn’t mean your parents don’t trust you. Parents or grandparents often have multiple motivations, creating trusts for both immediate use and for planning. When I am at a family meeting, my focus is on listening and making sure family members have a chance to be heard. The gift of inheritance has the power to tie a family together in a positive way when the communication is there and values are shared.”