‘If I found myself divorcing, Tom is the London solicitor I would choose. [He is] absolutely first-class,’ says a leading QC of Tom Amlot, family lawyer and partner at AFP. An accredited mediator and collaborative lawyer, the former commercial litigator enjoys tackling matters across different disciplines and areas of law. His recent successes include acting for the husband in a new High Court decision on the relevance of pre-acquired wealth. No wonder clients are effusive. Is London still the divorce capital of the world, we ask him? A blunt ‘yes’. Why? ‘It is the ‘most generous-paying jurisdiction’ for financially weaker parties, simple as that.
Welcome to the Spear’s Indices
Each issue of Spear’s Magazine contains an exclusive Index prepared by the experts at the Spear’s Research Unit identifying the very best providers of professional services to the high net worth audience. Comprehensive, authoritative and indispensible, these are the definitive lists of the top HNW advisers in Britain working in property, family law, wealth management, tax and trust, alternative assets and reputation management. Once a year the Indices are updated and expanded to form the core of the Spear’s 500, the bible of HNW advisers. Go to the drop down menu below for the latest indices of top professionals from the Spear’s Research Unit
Family Lawyers 2019
It’s been a particularly busy time for Camilla Baldwin, who’s not only fighting a highly litigious battle involving a slew of football clubs, banks and factories, but is also advising on the legal aspects of the upcoming episodes of BBC1’s divorce drama The Split. ‘There was a lot of litigation about whether there was a foreign divorce, whether there’s more money, for days on end in the High Court,’ she says. Does her dabble in TV (albeit as a consultant) provide some relief, then? ‘It’s great fun – I’m really enjoying that,’ she laughs. Many of the fictional drama’s tales are inspired by the ‘dysfunctional lives’ she observes in her career. ‘People who have a lot of money can be quite ruthless – it’s quite disappointing,’ she laments.
‘Things are going better than ever,’ beams the inimitable Catherine Bedford, who comes out of 2018 with several ‘seminal’ cases under her belt. Harbottle & Lewis, where she is head of the family law department, continues to punch above its weight. ‘We deal with a very demanding clientele,’ she says. ‘People come to us safe in the knowledge that we can untangle all sorts of complexities that can arise in these cases.’ A go-to choice for those looking to escape the prying eyes of the tabloids, Bedford earned her formidable reputation by establishing Lee & Thompson’s family department and making it one of London’s most renowned. She took her entire team to Harbottle in 2017 after being convinced of the firm’s merits by former Spear’s Reputation Manager of the year Gerard Tyrrell. She hasn’t looked back since. ‘It’s been a genuine pleasure working with this team,’ she says. ‘All our departments […]
Complexity is enticing and even essential for Nicholas Bennett, who specialises in cases involving companies, trusts and tough jurisdiction battles. Privacy is also often a concern for his clients. ‘Most judges agree that these are essentially private matters,’ he says, ‘but Mr Justice Holman takes a different view – he believes in justice being seen to be done.’ The lack of consistency means ‘we can’t properly advise clients about the risks of the process. Open justice is a fine principle, but I’m not sure it really works in this context.’ He adds that the courts are truly ‘in crisis’, so the very wealthy often want to ‘bypass the system completely’ through arbitration.
A nominee for Spear’s 2018 Family Lawyer of the Year, Zoe Bloom was the first solicitor specialising in family matters to join Keystone Law. ‘I needed them to accept their model would work for family law, so I gave them a business plan,’ she says. She started work the next week and has since recruited a team of five family solicitors. Describing herself as part of the ‘new school’, she focuses on outcome rather than process. ‘I am often instructed by clients who are fed up with their cases drifting along aimlessly without strategy. We call it “gentleman’s drift” and I see it far too often, particularly from clients who have previously instructed some of the more traditional practices.’
‘Every client has their own unique story to tell,’ says Emily Brand, partner at Boodle Hatfield. ‘It’s our job to unpick the details and get the best results.’ A specialist in complex financial proceedings, Brand has a proven track record of dealing with an international HNW clientele. She is expert at advising company owners, entrepreneurs and their spouses on how to preserve their wealth by way of pre- and postnuptial agreements and how best to unlock value from business assets upon separation. ‘We have an unpretentious approach,’ she says. ‘We’re always there for our clients and can leverage expertise from other parts of the firm where necessary.’
Peter Burgess and Antonia Mee, both ex-Withers, joined forces to form a compelling business. It’s an offering rubber-stamped by Queen Bees – both Helen Ward and Diana Parker refer clients to them – but excellent value for money with a personal touch. Mee handles ‘the whole gamut of private family law work’ and ‘particularly enjoys private children work’. It’s also an impressively eclectic client base. ‘They are looking for exceptional client service and expertise, but at a price which is more affordable,’ says Burgess. The firm is also fighting for reform of cohabitation and no-fault. ‘Cohabitation reform is an area that really needs to be considered by parliament,’ the pair agree.
It was a dizzying 2018 for Debbie Chism, whose clients have included European royalty, pop stars and ‘dynastic family wealth and overnight billions in the tech sector’. One notable success was an anonymised case in which she acted for the wife. ‘The wife received one of the highest recorded English divorce awards,’ recalls Chism. ‘The case dealt with issues of special contribution, privacy and whether foreign marital contracts should be treated as prenuptial agreements.’ Chism has built a formidable reputation covering all aspects of family law, including complex asset valuation, business interests, trusts and wealth protection structures. ‘My clients are looking for settlement on excellent terms,’ she says. ‘The primary source of my work remains based on word-of-mouth recommendation – not only from former clients but also from peers, professional intermediaries and, particularly pleasingly, from spouses “against” whom I have acted.’ Chism is celebrating her tenth year at Stewarts, having been […]
It’s all change at Payne Hicks Beach. With Ian Airey stepping down as head of the family department, the firm has opted to appoint co-heads of the family department. It’s an inspired move: Philip McGuirk has a superb reputation, particularly for pre- and postnups, and Rebecca Cockcroft is, says James Stewart, ‘a first-rate lawyer with brilliant people skills’. ‘It is the breadth of the work in the family division that attracts, and the pleasure one derives from being part of a process where, over time, a clearly defined picture emerges from what was once opacity,’ says McGuirk. Cockcroft says, meanwhile: ‘The best part of the job is inspiring trust in a client so they listen and follow your advice.’
Pamela Collis is a partner with a rarefied practice at FLiP. ‘My practice is an eclectic mix of HNW and international cases with a liberal seasoning of extremely unusual legal and factual situations,’ she tells us. Collis regularly handles complex business valuations, cross-border tax issues and jurisdiction issues. She has strong words about the court system: ‘I’ve experienced unprecedented delays in getting cases through the courts. And when we get before a judge, they are under so much pressure that often they don’t listen and sometimes they take shortcuts.’ And on the political situation? ‘I have excellent precedents for a “Brexit” prenup!’, she says.
‘I always ask my clients, “If you had a magic wand, what would you like to achieve?”’ says Sandra Davis, who has headed up the family department at Mishcon de Reya for more than 30 years. She is the lawyer of choice for notable HNWs (‘I don’t deal with the middle level of income,’ she once told Spear’s) and has acted for Princess Diana, Jerry Hall and Tamara Mellon. Davis is concerned that the divorce process encourages litigation by pitting parents against each other to the detriment of their offspring. If she had a magic wand, it would be used to help children’s wishes be heard earlier in proceedings: ‘Children don’t want to be dropped off at a service station; they want to see their parents having a relationship. Once one parent has started making negative comments about the other, it can be too late. ‘There are quite a few colleagues […]
A 2018 nominee for Spear’s Family Lawyer of the Year, Joanne Edwards heads a growing department at Forsters. ‘This year has been absolutely phenomenal,’ she says, pointing also to the arrival of Simon Blain and Matthew Brundson Tully. The firm is ideally positioned. Edwards’ profile – she is highly visible in the media – has grown since moving into a smaller team, but she also benefits from Forsters’ wider private client, corporate and landed estates offerings. Discretion is crucial to Edwards: ‘The HNWs we work with don’t want their cases splashed across the media. So we’re doing quite a lot of private justice, including arbitrations.’
Raoul Felder is so famous he’s frequently seen on national US TV shows and pops up in the Wall Street Journal and Vanity Fair. He’s even been called ‘one of the world’s most powerful lawyers’. Brooklyn-born Felder was a prosecutor before specialising in divorce law and running what a peer calls ‘the biggest practice in the country’. Forty years on, ‘you probably still hear the name’, the peer adds, admiring the 79-yearold’s tenacity. The heavyweight has acted for various members of the world’s royalty, as well as the stars of Hollywood, sport and the rest of the rich and famous. He’s dealt with the divorces of Richard Harris, Elizabeth Taylor (he represented Larry Fortensky), Mike Tyson (representing Robin Givens), French tycoon Alec Wildenstein and former mayor of New York City Rudy Giuliani. He works across the spectrum of family law, and has also fought paternity cases against the likes of Mick […]
Miranda Fisher, Spear’s reigning Family Lawyer of the Year, joined Charles Russell in 2004, having previously been at Stephenson Harwood. It was a rapid rise: she made partner in 2008 and equity partner in 2013. Fisher is known for HNW cases, ranging from prenups to complex financial disputes and children’s cases. She’s become particularly known for cases involving the Russian Federation and the Middle East, and now heads up the firm’s Middle East practice. Fisher is a sought-after expert on complex aspects of Sharia law: for instance, she recently spoke at STEP Arabia in Abu Dhabi on the treatment of prenups and postnups in the Sharia Court. Another area of strength is representing sports stars: she is currently acting for five Premier League footballers. ‘Most clients want settlement without acrimony or expense,’ she says. ‘Sometimes this is possible, in which case I will ensure it happens. Sometimes it is not, in […]
‘It was just me and a paralegal on day one,’ recalls Stephen Foster, the much-admired head of the divorce and family department at Stewarts. In the 12 years since he set it up, the department has grown into one of the most remarkable in London. ‘The size and strength in depth of the department means that we can deal with cases ranging from up-and-coming City professionals to some of the largest cases before the English Court,’ he says. ’We have a particular expertise in dealing with international cases straddling various jurisdictions.’ The past 12 months have been the busiest in the department’s history, Foster is happy to report. France, Switzerland and Luxembourg have been ‘particularly prominent’, with the Middle East, Russia and Ukraine also significant. Foster himself has dealt with two ‘very highasset cases’. ‘I think the age of individuals [alone] dominating the family law landscape is in the process of […]
‘All the sexy ones are too confidential,’ Claire Gordon proclaims when asked about recent cases. Many of those complex cases have been in the £100 million range, which the Farrer’s partner says reflects the growth of tech HNWs. One recent client was a woman of money who consulted Gordon on which of a selection of eight jurisdictions to move to, based on divorce laws and their attitude to prenups. Such cases involve her in strategic wealth planning, as well as touching on aspects of immigration and tax issues. With ‘more fluidity of money’, Gordon insists it’s best that family lawyers keep a team of experts close by. ‘What used to be regarded as fairly standard tax planning can now be a reputation issue, with the various leaks that are going on,’ she cautions. Gordon is astonished by the amount of data now available on relationships. She recalls of the evidence […]
‘In my experience you may have to take it so far down the court route to get to a solution, but matters shouldn’t go all the way to court unless there are serious issues,’ says the impressive Michael Gouriet, a partner at Withers. Gouriet’s cases range from £1 billion-plus matters on behalf of Middle Eastern families to intricate cohabitation matters. On the latter he is bullish: ‘There needs to be reform and there’s so much judicial clamour for reform.’ He is also concerned about the direction of justice. ‘The court processes have been undermined by the government cuts… with fewer judges and fewer court staff and more litigants in person… the court system is overcongested.’
Ellie Hampson-Jones is going great guns as an associate at Penningtons Manches, working on high-stakes reported cases, including one that was heard in the High Court following a four-day final hearing. Before beginning her traineeship in 2013, HampsonJones worked as an executive assistant for the CEO of Cable & Wireless (which has since been bought by Vodafone). ‘It was amazing training, like a mini-MBA,’ she says. ‘It also gives me an unusual insight into my clients’ day jobs.’ Having previously worked at a law firm in Los Angeles, she is also well placed to advise on Anglo-US issues.
‘The difference between myself and partners at HFC and our direct competitors at other firms is that we’re not afraid of litigating,’ says Mark Harper. ‘There are quite a few of my rivals who fundamentally don’t like having cases go to trial. But if you’re talking about hundreds of millions or billions, it’s very high stakes. Businesses are under attack.’ Harper, who was at Withers for 15 years before joining HFC in 2014, has dealt with his fair share of big-money cases. When Spear’s catches up with him, he’s awaiting a judgment over the recognition of a Russian divorce that was granted in 2006. ‘The case has been very dramatic,’ he confides. ‘Halfway through a five-day hearing in the UK, a new document came to light and the court was adjourned. We ended up having to travel to a Cypriot court. Hopefully we’ll win.’ Harper is very aware that when […]
Wedlake Bell’s Charmaine Hast is a specialist in high-profile cases, but privacy is always paramount. ‘If it’s a particularly high-profile case, we pride ourselves on confidentiality during this stressful time and even take the client out through a separate entrance to avoid the press,’ she says. Hast established the firm’s family law department in 2011, and it has quickly become one of the capital’s most feared. ‘More than a few billionaires have come by with very complex cases,’ she says. Hast is one of a handful of family law arbitrators, allowing her to hand down binding judgments in financial matters. Her favourite part of the job? ‘Winning,’ she says, beaming.
‘Never cut what you can untie’ is a quote from Joseph Joubert, but it’s also something of a mantra for Emma Hatley, Spear’s Family Lawyer of the Year in 2017. In the past year, Hatley has been involved in several complex cases, involving some of the most difficult and contentious issues to come across the desk of a family lawyer, all of which she has handled with characteristic grace and pragmatism. If there is one area she could change about the law, she says it would be ‘to recast the approach of the courts to spousal maintenance. There is a great need to provide greater clarity in this highly discretionary area, especially in respect of duration.’
Neal Hersh is a rare breed of trial lawyer whose service never stops, even when relaxing in the evening with a glass of Scotch. ‘I don’t want any client stewing overnight about something when I could have spent five minutes on the phone while I was smoking my pipe and relaxing,’ he says. ‘I could have made his or her situation more at ease.’ He rose to fame through helping Robin Givens divorce Mike Tyson in 1989. Soon Hersh found himself ‘representing every actress in Hollywood’, involving huge sums. ‘We have a case at the moment where one side says, “I owe you nothing,” while my side says, “You owe me close to $1 billion.”’ It’s been a ‘fascinating’ four decades for Hersh, who says of family law: ‘It’s interesting but also challenging. You’re learning a million things – and you never stop.’ His early career was ‘serendipitous but fortuitous’: he […]
Henry Hood is the larger-than-life head of Hunters’ family law department – a six-partner offering which is making serious inroads into the market. Once known as a firm with a strong rural presence, Hunters now acts for an eclectic range of clients, including professionals and entrepreneurs. ‘Our clients span the spectrum from vast wealth to those where money is really tight, and we are aware of the irony that the latter are often the more difficult,’ says Hood. This is a settlement-oriented lawyer who works in a close-knit team. And big-name clients keep coming the firm’s way, including one of the adult children in the Hagen (Viking Cruises) litigation.
‘Often the highlights are the cases you’ve settled,’ says Frances Hughes, who, despite her reputation as one of the best litigators in the field, strongly disapproves of ‘headbanger lawyers’ who are too keen to push things towards court. ‘Thank goodness they’re the minority,’ she tells Spear’s. ‘Most lawyers get a sense of satisfaction from sorting things out. We don’t want our clients to finish the process feeling like the walking wounded and spend the rest of their lives complaining about their awful divorce at cocktail parties.’ Hughes, co-founder of Hughes Fowler Carruthers, has been practising family law for 38 years and attracts the biggest cases. She is currently preparing for a ‘huge international case’, which is not yet in the public sphere but involves up to £20 billion in assets. ‘There’s been a rise in children’s work in big-money cases,’ she says. ‘A couple of years ago, fathers were fine […]
‘Anne-Marie’s name is on just about every list of the top family lawyers,’ fellow Dawson Cornwell partner Kate Allen tells Spear’s as we try to track down the busy lawyer. Hutchinson acts in all areas of family law, specialising in child abduction, forced child marriages, and international surrogacy. ‘Celebrities and HNWs lead very complicated lives. You ask them where they live and they say, “Which month?”’ Hutchinson says when we catch up. ‘You end up having meetings with their trust adviser, tax adviser, accountant…’ Recently Hutchinson has acted on behalf of teenagers whose parents are divorcing: ‘Their opinions are very important, and they certainly know their own minds.’
‘I specialise in cases of unusual complexity, in particular high value, or very high-value, financial remedy claims,’ says James Freeman. This workload includes cases with an Anglo-French or Swiss element. Freeman also has a specialism acting for trustees. ‘I don’t tend to give names of any clients,’ he tells us. ‘I act for some household names, as well as others who are very anxious not to become household names, especially as a result of their divorce.’ What unites these individuals? ‘Every client is different but, generally speaking, mine want technical excellence, clear guidance, a firm hand from time to time, basic humanity and sometimes a streak of humour.’
James Ferguson leads the department at Boodle Hatfield, where he presided over a 33 per cent boost in revenue in 2018. He’s quick to heap praise on his team. ‘This was achieved not just by our hugely talented and expanding team of home-grown associates working more hours, but by us acquiring more multi-million-pound HNW clients with more complex cases to resolve,’ he says. One 2018 case yielded a seven-figure payout for a client after a prenup was overturned at the High Court. ‘Things like this don’t happen very often,’ he says. ‘It was a hard-fought and very difficult case that we are immensely proud of having won.’
‘It’s time we cracked on and made prenups binding’, Deborah Jeff, founder and head of Seddons’ family department, tells Spear’s. ‘If you can say what happens on death in your will, why shouldn’t you be able to say what happens on divorce in your prenup?’ When it comes to the great hive of London divorce, she says, ‘it’s the inter-human skills which set apart those that excel in what they do in our niche of the legal profession.’ Jeff’s attention to the psychological impact of clients’ circumstances distinguishes her from other family lawyers: ‘I’m not aware of any other family lawyer who has taken this approach, and have made it my USP for the benefit of my clients.’
Davina Katz’s decision to leave Schillings and set up on her own was big news in family law. But when Spear’s catches up with her at Gail’s behind the British Museum, she explains that it was a natural progression. ‘I joined Schillings a decade ago and during that time we’ve built a leading family law practice from a standing start,’ she explains. It occurred to Katz – who recently won the case of Thum v Thum in the Court of Appeal – that she was essentially running a business within a business. ‘I wanted to establish a law firm specialising solely in divorce, but with an integrated offering that takes in not only expert legal advice, but also professional therapeutic support, assettracing and analysis.’ The parting of the ways isn’t acrimonious: ‘We’re taking all 73 of our clients with us, and will continue to refer reputation work back.’ That’s an […]
Jane Keir concluded her five-year term as the first female senior partner at Kingsley Napley last April, having played a key part in making the firm one of the most diverse in the industry. ‘We made it work,’ she tells Spear’s. ‘Over 50 per cent of our lawyers are women and we’re proud to be the top law firm in the Sunday Times 100 Best Companies to Work For.’ December saw the culmination of a major two-year case acting for Aparna Bangur, whose ex-husband was attempting to claim against her family’s wealth in India. The case, she says, ‘is now being used as a warning to “gold-diggers” who think they have an entitlement to the family wealth of the ex by reason of the marriage’.
There are few people in family law more infectiously likeable than Rachael Kelsey. But there’s a razor-sharp mind beneath the charm. ‘Undoubtedly the best family lawyer in Scotland,’ says Charles Russell Speechlys partner William Longrigg. So why family law? Kelsey tells us: ‘Because I am intensely nosy and endlessly fascinated by the gloriously ridiculous, life-affirming, foolish and human things that people do. I like working with people, I love the law and I get bored easily, so what could I possibly have done other than family law?’ It’s a diverse client base, but the Edinburgh-based firm provides ‘judgement, support, technical excellence and pragmatism’.
Carly Kinch is the latest to join the top echelons of divorce at Stewarts, after a swift 12-year transition from paralegal to partner. She’s been involved in ‘complex and high-value’ litigations for clients who expect ‘Rolls-Royce service’ as a standard. Clients have included a telecoms pioneer, the wife of a billionaire diamond merchant, and a family with assets in excess of $3 billion. Kinch describes an acrimonious case worth €250 million, in which there were arguments for ‘special contribution’. A favourable settlement was achieved. ‘It is really only in the truly exceptional cases that arguments of special contribution get any real traction,’ she says.
The news of Suzanne Kingston’s move from Withers to Mills & Reeve emerged just before Spear’s press deadline. Jo Grandfield, the firm’s head of family, is certain the addition of Kingston will take her team ‘to another level’. Kingston’s ability to manage some of the most financially complex and international cases is common knowledge in the family law sphere. ‘She’s a tough negotiator, but constructive and unfailingly pleasant to deal with,’ a source told the firm. Kingston, dubbed as ‘the queen of arbitration’, has three decades of experience. Mills & Reeve says it is thrilled to have her innovation and skills to ‘drive forward’ its dispute resolution offering.
‘The relationship between a family lawyer and their client can be a peculiarly close one,’ says Renato Labi. ‘You need to earn your client’s trust, you need to be emotionally engaged without being emotionally involved, and they need to know that you are going to fight their corner.’ Labi is clear on HFC’s objectives: ‘Our reputation is that we’re more prepared to go to court than others… if we need to get a good settlement – perhaps because of bullying or manipulation – then you need to fight hard.’ In the past year he has also advised offshore trustees on whether a beneficiary’s trust could be ‘attackable’ via the English court system.
Jeremy Levison, founding partner of Levison Meltzer Pigott, is one of the great characters in family law. He is known for his superb art collection: works by the likes of Rose Wylie (see page 86) can be seen in the firm’s offices. ‘My contacts with family lawyers worldwide assist in the successful resolution of a significant proportion of my cases that have an international dimension,’ says Levison, a founder of the International Academy of Family Lawyers. It’s often high-profile work: he counts politicians and sports stars among his clients. Does Levison enjoy the job? Absolutley. ‘Like doctors, we take people at a low ebb and make them better,’ he says.
‘I am ashamed by the UK court system at the moment,’ says Julian Lipson with a compassionate indignation. Impeccable and articulate – and known for ‘extraordinary technical proficiency’ – Lipson, along with Diana Parker, is now arguably the standout partner at Withers, and narrowly missed out on being Spear’s Family Lawyer of the Year in 2018. After university, Lipson worked in the USA for a tour company. ‘The skills I learned from directing crowds of anxious affluent Americans through unfamiliar foreign territories later translated rather well into doing much the same thing with my clients going through divorces,’ he jokes. But it’s as a technician that he’s revered. He recently acted for the wife in a high-asset divorce where the main asset was a business that had been in the husband’s family for nearly 60 years – a matter with intricate US tax issues requiring an extremely targeted negotiation. Lipson is […]
‘I was trained by and worked for many years with Peter George, one of the best-known family lawyers of his day. His clients loved him and he got wonderful results,’ says William Longrigg, a long-standing star partner at Charles Russell Speechlys. It could also describe Longrigg himself. When Spear’s meets him for lunch he is convivial and excellent company. This is a highly international lawyer, celebrated for his work on behalf of the International Academy of Family Lawyers. Longrigg’s many friendships in the profession testify to his ability to remain calm in the heat of battle. ‘There are of course exceptions, but most of us actually enjoy each other’s company,’ he explains.
Sam Longworth says joining Stewarts in 2007 was the best career decision he’s made. Back then it was a relatively unknown boutique firm. More than a decade on, Longworth reports ‘an exceptional year, with victories in court including the Court of Appeal, a variety of instructions from, clients old and new, ‘some excellent settlements’ and a ‘very high asset’ case worth billions. ‘HNWs have a huge choice,’ he notes, ‘and want to be able to access a variety of advisers.’ As a result, he says family lawyers have to expand their little black books. ‘Your clients still pick up the phone to you when they need someone.’
Dana Lowy is one of the founders of a boutique law firm owned exclusively by women. ‘As the pre-eminent female-owned family law firm in Southern California, we are proud of our highly aggressive and focused representation,’ the firm states. Lowy works with clients to accomplish their objectives while maintaining privacy and dignity. The firm specialises in all aspects of family law. ‘We bring a rare combination of legal prowess, tenacity and empathy to the practice of family law,’ it says. She enjoys working with HNWs, especially when they bring in a broad team of advisers to discuss complex family law matters that involve significant assets. Despite the scale of the wealth involved, she stresses that each case needs to be treated with sensitivity and kindness. ‘You develop a relationship with a lot of these people so you have to be available, compassionate and empathetic, because they’re all going through a bad […]
The head of Farrer’s family and disputes teams has fought many battles, but prenups often provide the toughest challenge in William Massey’s work. ‘You’re treading a bit of a tightrope,’ he says. He describes the challenge of choosing a geographical starting point to begin with. ‘It’s always quite difficult then to marry up them advice in this jurisdiction with the advice that lawyers in other jurisdictions are giving,’ he says. It’s hardly romantic when one is ‘negotiating the terms of a divorce at a time when they’re going to get married’, says Massey, the president of the European charter of the International Academy of Family Lawyers. ‘It’s fascinating, but difficult.’
Diana Parker’s status falls nothing short of legendary in family law, having been at the forefront of the industry for more than 30 years. Parker serves an ‘interesting and eclectic bunch of clients’, but you’d be hard-pressed to find the bulk of her cases in the papers. ‘I do have some cases that fight through the courts where we have reported cases, but people typically come to me because they want clever strategic advice and not to be in the Daily Mail,’ she says. Parker has been involved in several landmark cases including the UK’s first £1 billion divorce, in which she spared Chris Hohn’s business from his final settlement. Working at Withers, which has just introduced a hot-desking concept, is a unique proposition for clients, she says. ‘We have a fabulous team. We’re very good at bringing on very good, dedicated people and making the most of their abilities, working […]
‘There have been a significant number of large money cases and I’m happy to say that we have successfully achieved settlement in the vast majority,’ says Simon Pigott, co-founder of Levison Meltzer Pigott. Last year was the firm’s 20th anniversary. ‘Despite doubling in size over the years, we have remained true to our founding ethos and have avoided all temptation to be other than a perfectly formed, boutique, 100 per cent family law practice,’ he declares. Clients benefit from Pigott’s sensitivity and tact. ‘Clients come to us with a problem and they are looking for it to go away in the least painful way,’ he says. ‘That’s exactly what we deliver.’
‘The lawyer of choice for notable HNWs – ‘My clients are high-end because my billing rate is high,’ she says – Judith Poller has acted for Scarlett Johansson and Drew Barrymore, among others. ‘Privacy is a huge concern to my celebrity clients,’ she notes. ‘People are so interested in their lives and the fact that they’re going through a divorce only makes them more interesting. I do my best to make sure that their divorce doesn’t play out in the press.’ Poller, dubbed ‘the Hollywood Troubleshooter’ in the US press, began practising family law after a stint volunteering at a shelter for victims of domestic violence. ‘I thought I would be of more help with a law degree,’ she says. ‘I do everything from prenuptial agreements to paternity suits, divorce, cohabitation issues: the whole gamut.’ The co-head of Pryor Cashman’s Family Law Group strives to make divorce as simple and painless […]
Maggie Rae was preparing for a tour of Easter Island when she picked up a call from Spear’s, at a time when the UK was in Brexit deadlock. ‘I’m not coming back,’ she jokes, before expressing worry over the future of the movement of children across Europe. ‘Will we manage to stay within the Brussels II regime?’ she asks. She describes a complex case involving a 17-year-old under the care of the Irish authorities who failed to find her appropriate placement in Ireland. Rae helped her move to the UK to live with her mother, guided by Brussels II. ‘It safeguards the process – such movements are very infringing on the child’s rights,’ she says, ‘It’ll be a shame if we lose that as well.’
Described by peers as ‘fiercely intelligent and extremely able’, Fiona Read describes her practice as ‘everything from district resolution – so mediation and family arbitration – to highly complex international cases’. ‘Brexit will definitely have an impact on family law,’ says Read, who also serves as a district judge. ‘We’ll be doing a lot of work with lawyers all over the world. It’s going to be quite intellectually stimulating for us, but not much fun for the clients.’ She has seen a ‘very significant’ increase in mediation cases and a fall in general instruction: ‘I think Brexit, and the uncertainty around that, is driving people to either delay or to look into other options.’
Thomas Sasser could not possibly escape Spear’s transatlantic radar, no matter how discreet and sensitive his caseload. He is in fact one of the ‘great lawyers’ who came highly recommended by a very senior UK practitioner. There is a need for more discretion than usual at Sasser, Cestero & Sasser, as the clientele is made up of ‘captains of industry, celebrities, athletes and small business owners’. Equally, Sasser also looks after the family law matters of homemakers and working men and women, especially when the marital breakdown becomes complicated. Many individuals the firm represents are involved in ‘the distribution of multimillion-dollar holdings’. ‘We specialise in sophisticated and complex family law matters arising from interpersonal relationships both domestic and abroad.’ Sasser, the managing partner, oversees all family law issues: dissolution of marriage, child custody/visitation, child support, alimony, equitable distribution, paternity, enforcement and nuptial agreements. Service is all about ‘satisfying the economic and […]
‘We’re doing a lot of private work, which we think is the way forward. It’s all about that next-gen narrative. We are different kinds of lawyers,’ says the warm and highly impressive Rosie Schumm, one of the key partners at Forsters. Schumm, who’s also notable for her presentational skills as well as her expertise in prenups and postnups, joined Forsters last year, having previously been a partner at Wedlake Bell. Of late, she has developed a cross-jurisdictional practice, handling cases with a US-UK nexus, and when Spear’s speaks to her she’s about to board a plane for Los Angeles to address a meeting of 300 trust lawyers. ‘That’s become my forte,’ she explains.
Fiona Shackleton is a phenomenon – ‘probably the greatest family lawyer of all time’, according to one observer. This sounds like a huge endorsement, but for once the hype is justified. She’s known for her kindness (she remembers the birthdays of everyone in the firm) and Spear’s can report that she’s also an excellent lunch companion. Though she doesn’t drink herself, she fills up your glass for you, and even offers a parting gift of chocolates before dashing off to receive the freedom of the City. ‘I’ve never known someone who can light up a room like Fiona,’ says fellow partner Dominic Crossley. Indeed, there is a razzmatazz about her which is full of harmless good fun – Spear’s notes a lizard brooch on her shoulder during their lunch – and makes her a natural fit for celebrity cases. Clients include the Duke of Sussex and Duke of Cambridge, as well […]
The attorney at Aronson Mayefsky & Sloan is highly respected by her London peers, and is known for being ‘a straight-talking, formidable negotiator’. Pam Sloan is known to achieve favourable settlements for her clients, who often come to her with a range of complex issues. However, she is equally well known for recognising when to start the court battle when a settlement is out of the question. Sloan has achieved the ‘AV’ rating, which is the highest standard for competence and ethics granted by industry experts Martindale-Hubbell. She has also been selected to the Super Lawyers listing since 2006, a process where ‘a small number of attorneys’ are featured, selected for their ‘professional achievement, peer recognition’ and a list of other criteria. Sloan’s career includes significant leadership roles. Among other positions, she is currently a member of the City Bar’s Judiciary Committee and a fellow of the International Academy of […]
‘Everyone wants a good divorce, but often a good divorce is quite difficult to achieve. It also has to be a fair divorce,’ says James Stewart, partner and co-head of wealth at Penningtons Manches (including the family, immigration, and tax and trust departments). The experienced Stewart says the demand for out-of-court solutions has ‘risen exponentially’ in recent times. ‘It’s important for clients to get advice on the best process for their individual case. Twenty years ago you had two choices: either a round-table approach or court resolution. Now you can get things like mediation and arbitration. It’s worth considering all the options.’ Stewart has seen the firm’s Russian and US offerings expand with the promotion of Elizabeth Carson to head of the department’s US desk. ‘Any family lawyer in England worth his or her salt needs to have a strong understanding of international family law, and a good international, multilingual team […]
Several UK lawyers have recommended John Teitler, who is the go-to for some of New York’s most complex financial cases. Teitler, whose father and grandfather set up the boutique in the Sixties, is an expert in asset allocation, having had experience of litigating in the financial services sphere. He says New York’s discovery process is superior to that of London or other US jurisdictions. ‘It allows the opportunity for lawyers to better understand the facts of a matter and advise their clients with a greater degree of clarity and certainty,’ he says. He admires the way the Bezos case has settled without conflict, and says it should serve as an example to family lawyers worldwide. ‘Reasonable lawyers meeting together should be able to resolve issues and come up with compromises, while there are understandable reasons why some cases don’t settle other than simply lawyers being too aggressive. At the same […]
Is London still the ‘divorce capital of the world’? It’s a firm yes from Suzanne Todd at Withers, adding that the characteristics of the English legal system that put London at the top of the jurisdiction pile remain in place. She adds that London firms benefit from the ‘expectation’ that our discretionary system in determining what is fair will produce an award that is ‘more bespoke’ and ‘ultimately more generous to the weaker party’. Todd tells Spear’s of a growing number of family law cases where the woman is the breadwinner. To help tackle these issues, she adds that Withers promotes gender equality: ‘More than 40 per cent of our partners worldwide are female.
Raymond Tooth’s name is synonymous with big divorce wins, and last year he didn’t disappoint. He mentions a string of successes, including cases in the Court of Appeal. Despite his track record of acting for the wives of A-list celebrities, he is open to welcoming clients from all walks of life. ‘I feel honoured to assist anybody who wishes to seek my help,’ he says humbly. Susan Apthorp joined Sears Tooth in 2008. Her recent success in Brack v Brack was a proud moment, as she secured a win in the Court of Appeal for a client who was in a ‘seemingly unwinnable’ four-year battle against prenups spanning three jurisdictions.
Joe Vaitilingam boasts more than 20 years as a family lawyer. He started out as a trainee at Hughes Fowler Carruthers, becoming a partner in 2005, before launching Vaitilingam Kay in 2014. ‘Our basic pitch is that you get me and Anne [Kay, formerly of Mishcon de Reya] – 30-plus years at Magic Circle firms – but we’re more modern,’ he says. ‘Our costs are lower than everybody else’s, our rates are lower and so we’re cheaper – but you suffer no loss in quality.’ Cases tend to be in the range of £5-15 million, and highlights have included securing one of the largest known financial awards for housing and maintenance for a child of unmarried parents.
To say that Ayesha Vardag has made an impression on the family law world is to riot in understatement. Since founding her firm in 2005, she acted in the landmark 2010 prenup case Radmacher v Granatino – in which her tactical nous has been praised by contemporaries – and has gone to claim, she says, ‘the lion’s share’ of UHNW divorces. Rachael Kelsey of SKO is an admirer: ‘By using publicity in a way that no one else does, and running family cases in a way that commercial litigators would recognise, she has attracted a huge amount of attention. It can’t be denied that Ayesha has been bold, focused and created a hugely distinctive brand.’ When Spear’s caught up with Vardag over lunch (see page 20), she was in cheerful mood, pointing to the firm’s domestic expansion. (It is now moving into reputation and criminal law.) She has also been […]
It’s only been two months since Izzy Walsh set up Hall Brown’s branch in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, and clients are already streaming in. Many are Russian/CIS HNWs. It’s not always about money, she says, especially where children are involved: ‘They’ve got to co-parent their children, they want to be able to turn up to together to their children’s graduation ceremonies or weddings in 20 years or so.’ Walsh has also worked on divorces where horses are involved. ‘[Horses] are the most unusual assets in the world,’ she says. ‘One day they might be worth several hundred thousand or more, and then they could trip over a blade of grass, break a leg or similar and be worth nothing.’
‘Helen Ward is not merely one of the best, but the best family lawyer in London,’ Lewis Marks QC once said, and it’s a sentiment that is no less true today. In recent years Ward has been involved in the complex matter of Mantegazza v Mantegazza, which contains questions of forum under the Lugano Convention. ‘It was a fascinating case, and it has been a long time since I have been involved in a case about a conflict of jurisdictions,’ she told Spear’s last year. Long recognised as one of the top five individuals practising in the field, Ward is known for her high level of intellectual rigour, expertise and emotional intelligence. ‘I am well equipped and almost always succeed in finding creative solutions, whether the issues arise in this jurisdiction or internationally. I have considerable experience of dealing with family law cases around the world,’ she says. Recently she […]
The energetic Nicholas Westley works across the field from financial disputes to prenups and postnups and private law children work. He also unpicks offshore assets, inter-jurisdictional disputes and complicated asset-holding structures. ‘We are now a firm that has an employment department, property department, tax department – we can now offer advice and input on all these sorts of issues that very regularly come up in the cases that we do,’ he says. Westley joined Harbottle and Lewis in 2017 after stints at QEB and Lee & Thompson. ‘We don’t have a single approach,’ he says. ‘We have to be supremely adaptable to our clients’ needs.’
In a firm known for its role in advancing mediation and settlement, it’s intriguing to find a litigator of such quality as Bradley Williams. Likeable and modest – but with a certain quiet authority – Williams is just the person for offering ‘sound advice and reassurance’. No surprise, then, that it’s been ‘a phenomenally busy 12 months’ for him. This is also a practitioner who understands the difficulty of the bigger picture. ‘The main challenge continues to be the cuts which the courts are having to absorb,’ he says. ‘For the wealthy this is also an opportunity, as private judging and arbitration are on the increase.’
Mariko Wilson trained at Anthony Gold under Kim Beatson, and now at FLiP she acts for HNWs, with ‘a particular interest in the tax and pension aspects of divorce’. Personable and impressive, the senior associate regularly acts for people in the professions. ‘At the moment I have a large number of lawyers, mainly partners at large City firms. They are unimpressed by their lawyer sitting on the fence and are looking for precise, robust and decisive advice,’ she explains. So what makes a good family lawyer? ‘It’s very easy to lose sight of the human impact of our work in the cut and thrust of litigation. Remembering that the other side was once your client’s spouse or is the child’s other parent is crucial.’
Katharine Landells heads up Withers’ European families and family offices group, specialising in stress testing and wealth planning advice from the perspective of securing the succession of wealth across generations. Over the past 12 months she’s been involved in a number of very high-value prenups, putting this rise down to ‘a continuing disenchantment with the uncertainty that our discretionary system provides’, alongside the ‘failure’ to address the need for reform of the law in relation to cohabitants. She adds: ‘A financially weaker party is still better off married with a restrictive prenup than unmarried.’
Praised by peers for her work on children’s cases, Anna Worwood also advises HNWs on complex financial structures – ‘an unusual combination,’ she says. ‘My HNW clients are City lawyers and other City professionals, business owners and entrepreneurs,’ she says. In the past year Worwood has successfully appealed against a decision to refuse her client (the mother) permission to move with her daughter to Iran, and also resolved a dispute in a highprofile international case. ‘The case involved a marriage of more than 50 years during which the parties had built up assets worth hundreds of millions of pounds while living in Africa,’ she explains.