Once described as the ‘protégé’ of Fiona Shackleton, Ben ParrySmith joined Payne Hicks Beach on qualification 12 years ago and made partner in 2018. Parry-Smith notes that the coronavirus crisis has had serious consequences for some clients: ‘It’s fantastic if you’re a coercive controller – someone whose main aim in life is to isolate someone from friends and family and control them. No one can leave the house.’ He is quick to pay homage to one of the Payne Hicks Beach family team’s newest members, Sarah Williams, who joined from Vardags in March to become head of surrogacy, fertility and modern family law.
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 Law index 2020
Tom Amlot is a stickler for tackling matters across different disciplines and areas of the law – especially in cases with a crossborder aspect. ‘Many of my clients have issues that are of an international nature, so they require strategic advice from the perspective of different jurisdictions,’ he tells Spear’s. ‘I also have a number of clients for whom privacy is of paramount concern, so safeguarding this is of the utmost importance.’ Amlot, who joined AFP in 2011, has enjoyed a string of recent successes. One leading QC testifies to his qualities: ‘If I found myself divorcing, Tom is the London solicitor I would choose. [He is] absolutely first-class.’
‘She is known for just getting on with it, and it’s her tenacity and feminist principles that make a huge difference to her clients,’ says Keystone Law of Susan Apthorp, its new partner hire to its growing family department. Apthorp had spent more than a decade as one of Sears Tooth’s most formidable lawyers. Her greatest success was in Brack v Brack, where in the Court of Appeal she overturned a ruling subjecting her client to an ‘unfair agreement’, despite having been warned by eminent lawyers that her case was unwinnable. Apthorp also specialises in cases involving international relocation and provision for children with complex medical needs.
Spear’s arrives at Camilla Baldwin’s offices on a rainy day, instantly comforted by the plush sofas. The boutique’s personable founder speaks of a busy start to 2020, including her pro-bono clinic at HMP Send, helping women in prison see their children. In the HNW world, she recently negotiated a settlement for a Russian billionaire’s ex-wife, where ‘very few’ of the assets were in the UK. ‘It was a delicate dance around, trying to get as much as possible knowing that we have no power,’ she says. Baldwin says that having her own experience of divorce, before reuniting with her husband, has given her ‘enormous insight into how not to do it’.
It was the Queen’s reputation lawyer, Gerrard Tyrrell, who noticed Catherine Bedford’s expertise in dealing with A-list clients at Lee & Thompson. Convinced by the strength of her practice, Tyrrell was instrumental in bringing Bedford’s entire team to complete Harbottle & Lewis’s private client offering in 2017. Three years on, the family department is punching above its weight, accounting for a substantial proportion of the firm’s total revenue. ‘The last year has been my busiest yet,’ she says. Catherine is currently running one of the most complex and significant pieces of family law litigation that the profession has seen in many decades, and representing a wife amid significant media scrutiny. One of the many reasons for Bedford’s commercial success and burgeoning reputation (one QC referred to her as a future ‘Queen Bee’) is her personality. The Canadian is known for her emotional intelligence when dealing with cases involving complex financial […]
Zoe Bloom has been described by colleagues as a ‘bright, feisty solicitor’ who fights hard for her varied HNW clientele, which includes Rich Listers, tech entrepreneurs, global billionaires and financial professionals. ‘I’m often instructed by clients who are fed up with their cases drifting along aimlessly,’ she tells Spear’s over coffee. She calls this phenomenon the ‘gentleman’s drift’, arising from clients who had previously been instructed by ‘the more traditional practices’. Bloom, who prides herself as a modern strategist, is known for a unique specialism in particularly ‘toxic’ disputes against those with narcissistic and borderline personality disorders.
‘It’s really important, as a good family lawyer, to have exposure to a wide range of work,’ says Charlotte Bradley. ‘All clients, at the beginning, really want a good strategy that doesn’t just focus on one aspect.’ Bradley is known for her diverse practice which spans complex finances, jurisdiction battles, financial provision for unmarried couples and surrogacy. She names parental alienation as one of the areas which have had significant media interest lately. ‘Judges are really grappling with the issue,’ she says. ‘They’re really balancing the [long-term] effects on the child of not having a full relationship and contact with both parents – the courts are taking that very seriously.’
Emily Brand focuses on high-level financial work and complex children disputes (with special expertise in relation to children with autism). Her practice is largely international and includes recent cases with clients from the Middle East and South America. She is highly attuned to the need for complete discretion and negotiations taking place ‘behind closed doors’. Brand thinks the English court system ‘has served us well’ but there are ways it could be improved. Coronavirus, despite the havoc it has wreaked, has the potential to affect family law positively: ‘Covid-19 is forcing court systems to update digital systems, which will help people with young families prove that they can work flexibly. No one should be disbarred from any role because they are a woman or a mother.’
Peter Burgess, who founded his firm with Antonia Mee in 2013, was enjoying a year of High Court matters and HNW cases until Covid-19 swept the globe. But in the world of family law, the unprecedented situation is throwing up new challenges. He predicts that social distancing measures could see divorces increase: ‘There’s this urban myth of a day in January when interest in divorce spikes because people have just spent the holidays with their partner… we might see the same thing here.’ Pandemic aside, Burgess excels in trust matters, capacity issues and wives with controlling spouses. ‘I seem to collect specialisms as the years go by,’ he muses.
A renowned specialist in international and ‘cutting-edge’ cases, Alex Carruthers has enjoyed yet another stellar year. ‘We are now one of the biggest central London high-net-worth departments,’ he says proudly of the firm he co-founded 19 years ago. He’s still noting a ‘continual uptick’ in prenups and postnups. ‘That is now the day-to-day feature of our work which didn’t exist five years ago,’ he remarks. With the government looking a lot different from a year ago, Carruthers says ‘there is now space to do stuff’ at last. ‘They have said they want to bring in no fault divorces and I think if they don’t, questions will be asked.’
‘We shut the door on a lot of special contribution arguments,’ Debbie Chism declared after overturning a ruling that had awarded the mother of a disabled child only 29 per cent of her husband’s wealth. The husband, a successful businessman, obtained the initial ruling using the rare ‘genius’ argument in divorce law, which Chism successfully challenged in the Court of Appeal. Lawyers called it a ‘critical win for gender equality’. Chism is no stranger to such successes. Her clientele spans the globe, with enquiries coming in from a range of entrepreneurs, celebrities and professionals. And peer recommendations have only accelerated her popularity as ‘an absolute star performer’ – in 2019 she was crowned Family Lawyer of the Year at the Spear’s Wealth Management Awards. Chism pursues litigation where necessary, but her practice is also uniquely collaborative. ‘I’m always looking for a creative way to solve a case,’ she says. ‘It’s […]
When Spear’s meets Rebecca Cockcroft in a book-lined room at Payne Hicks Beach’s offices, it’s a relief that this is an interview and not a negotiation. Cockcroft’s expression remains inscrutable during the early exchanges; one suspects opponents often find themselves giving away rather too much, rather too quickly. Cockcroft, an alumna of Dawsons and Manches, jointly heads the department that is home to Baroness Shackleton. ‘I think you’ve got to be quite firm with your clients,’ says Cockcroft of her own style. ‘Emotions run very high and you need to persuade a client to focus on the big picture and the end result, not pyrrhic victories along the way.’
‘Strategising is part of my DNA,’ Sandra Davis reveals to Spear’s when asked why she chose family law as a profession. ‘I love problem solving and I felt that I could make a positive difference,’ she says, adding that the complexity of the cases she faces, combined with the need for intuition and empathy, makes for a thrilling career. As such, Davis has spent nearly four decades in this field, having represented Princess Diana, Jerry Hall, Thierry Henry and Tamara Mellon. ‘But there are other cases that I have been involved in that are not as well known, but have changed the way in which the law operates,’ she emphasises. Her practice is as varied as her UHNW client base, with expertise in international divorces involving trusts and substantial assets, children disputes and settlements for nuptial agreements: ‘We get clients who want us to push the boundaries… they want us […]
Deborah Eaton, the QC at the top of many lists when children law matters are at stake, covers everything from abduction to the length of time parents spend with their children or the country they live in. Indeed, in K v K she helped to shape the way international relocation cases are dealt with. ‘You have to be ready for any case to go off like a Catherine wheel at any stage,’ she says. ‘All bases have to be covered because these clients pay a lot of money for your time and the best advice possible.’ And away from the courtroom? ‘My family is pretty important to me,’ says Eaton. ‘And I’ve got the best dog in the world – he’s called Hector. Don’t you think that’s a great name for a barrister’s dog?’
Since Joanne Edwards joined Forsters four years ago, the family team’s fees have almost trebled from £1.3 million to £3.3 million. ‘I hope the market has sat up and noticed,’ she says. ‘My cases have increased in both the complexity and the size of the wealth involved,’ she adds. ‘Many are worth over £100 million and have international elements. I’ve also had much more complex children’s agreements.’ Edwards is also known for her mediation abilities: ‘I never say you should be fearful of court, but I think you should try to resolve. About half my cases issue court proceedings, but only about 5-7 per cent litigate.’
James Ferguson, who heads up Boodle Hatfield’s family team, brings with him a wealth of expertise accumulated over 37 years of HNW practice. Peers respect him for being ‘very protective of his clients’. An important case he took on for the wife of a City professional resulted in a ‘manifestly unfair’ prenup being challenged and its financial provision overturned in the High Court. His client was awarded a seven-figure sum. Ferguson is also proud of his capacity to settle a case outside court using creative solutions and a ‘diverse knowledge’ of the law. ‘But in instances where litigation is necessary, we fight tooth and nail.’
Charles Russell Speechlys’ estimable partner James Freeman acts for ‘all sorts of people with all sorts of problems’. ‘It could be some fiddly thing about an offshore trust structure,’ he explains. ‘It could be a soul in pain. And quite often it’s both.’ A specialist in all issues arising from relationship breakdowns, Freeman was a part of the family team at Speechly Bircham in the 2014 merger with Charles Russell. He’s accustomed to dealing with international cases which often involve hidden assets, and the construction of sophisticated financial settlements. ‘We do big, complex, difficult cases,’ he says of his practice. ‘Because that’s what we’re good at.’
Charles Russell Speechlys has offices all around the world, and no lawyer encapsulates this internationalism more than jetsetter Miranda Fisher. ‘I have big-ticket cases in London, but more than my fair share of international,’ she says. Fisher is known for her work in Russian or Russian-speaking cases. The coronavirus pandemic has put a spanner in the works, but Fisher remains optimistic: ‘I suspect I will be travelling again by autumn. This isn’t going to change the international nature of London.’ She also specialises in ‘Part Three’ claims, which govern the bringing of financial claims after a foreign divorce. Her most celebrated case was that of Natalia Potanina, who was granted more money after her divorce from one of the richest men in Russia. ‘People are moving towards protecting inherited property or wealth, and treating property accrued before a marriage as separate,’ says Fisher. ‘And forum shopping – that’s something that […]
‘I think there will be a revolution,’ Stephen Foster tells Spear’s from his cottage in Dorset, as the Covid-19 pandemic approaches its peak in the UK. He is describing the transformative effect this has been having on the way family law operates – but instead of complaining about remote working or the quality of video conferencing calls, Foster sees this as an opportunity. But this is not entirely new for Foster, who has been building Stewarts’ reputation as an ‘entrepreneurial’ family law firm since 2006. ‘Even before the crisis, we had moved to what we call “agile working”,’ he says. He recalls acclimatising to WhatsApp as the key communication platform last year for an Italian client whom he describes as the ‘really cool, go-ahead’ type of businessman. Clients include figures from the City and entrepreneurs, and many of his cases have an international dimension including Europe, the US and the […]
When Princess Haya of Jordan and her solicitor Fiona Shackleton went up against Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum in the High Court recently, Charles Geekie was the silk they turned to. Geekie, a QC since 2006, is known for his excellence in children matters. He notes that his type of work, in particular, seems destined to be affected by the coronavirus crisis. ‘Where we will be with that in time to come is anybody’s guess,’ he says. Everyone is having to adapt and the use of video conference technology could continue in the long term. ‘But,’ Geekie says, ‘I don’t think it will ever be a substitute for the formality and the directness of an actual court hearing.’
Spear’s meets Claire Gordon in the beautiful Farrer & Co office on the corner of Lincoln’s Inn Fields. She balances formidable know-how with kindness in exactly the way that one would want their divorce lawyer to do. ‘My clients are ultra-high-networth and multi-jurisdictional, with lots of complex issues,’ Gordon begins, citing a recent prenup client who is worth £6 billion. Her average client is worth a mere £100 million. But despite the high-value work that she attracts, she insists that it is not all about the big numbers: ‘For me, it is really about where I can add value, and how you can help people get through the period.’ If this means settling out of court, Gordon is more than happy to do so: ‘I focus on a client’s best interests. To have a successful practice you don’t need to be aggressive; you need to be robust, but not aggressive. […]
Withers partner Michael Gouriet has worked on some ‘really tricky cases’ over the past year. ‘What struck me this year was the level of animosity in some cases that arises between certain people that puts them into a loggerheads situation where they feel they’ve got to go to court to resolve it,’ he says. He’s keen to highlight the breadth of the offering at Withers. ‘We’re really lucky to have people with such calibre within the firm,’ he says, noting one divorce case where he has utilised partners in four different areas of the firm. Gouriet takes a rounded view of the trade: ‘Every single family case creates its own sort of factual scenario. They’re all quite idiosyncratic in their own way.’
‘Sometimes in order to get the best deal for a client, you have to make it clear that the client is willing to go all the way,’ says Mark Harper, who cites a recent case representing a ‘downtrodden wife’ as a case in point for his bullish strategy. ‘It’s very important that he and his lawyers understand that with my help, my client will fight all the way to trial.’ Harper, a specialist in international cases – especially those involving offshore trusts – has enjoyed another ‘great year’ at boutique firm Hughes Fowler Carruthers, with several reported cases. One highlight was a case involving a trust with assets of over £100 million, where he was instructed just weeks before the five-day trial. ‘It was an enormous amount of work,’ he recalls. ‘That was testing, but also interesting and exciting.’ In between all this, Harper also published the third edition of […]
Wedlake Bell partner and head of family law Charmaine Hast is no stranger to high-profile cases, and she understands the ‘supreme importance’ of confidentiality better than most. ‘Taking high-profile clients in through a separate entrance to the court has become normality,’ she says. It’s been an ‘exceptional’ year in review for Hast, who is one of few family law arbitrators who can hand down binding judgments in financial divorce matters and is an expert on untangling the complexities of big-money cases. ‘Dealing with the uncertainty for the very wealthy requires experience, patience and expertise, as 1 per cent can mean several million,’ she tells Spear’s.
Emma Hatley re-enters our top-flight with a large number of recommendations from the family law community. ‘An incredibly good lawyer,’ beams one prominent industry peer, while another notes that Hatley’s team at Stewarts has ‘really come into the ascendancy’. Indeed, the star lawyer tells Spear’s that ‘there hasn’t really been a lull’ over the past two and a half years. ‘Across the team here, everybody is working to capacity,’ she says. ‘We’ve got a very strong market share.’ Hatley puts her ability to attract a steady flow of big-money cases down to the ‘strength in depth’ across the team at Stewarts: ‘Whoever you deal with here, you get a [high] calibre lawyer.’ Renowned for her negotiating skills and ability to see the bigger picture, Hatley is a bona fide all-rounder, but her selfproclaimed speciality is in ‘complex financial work’. She’s keen to stress the distinctive strategy pioneered at her team. […]
When Elizabeth Hicks joined BCLP from Irwin Mitchell in 2018, there was no London family law department to speak of. The team is now five-strong and has more than got its hands full. ‘To come in and set something up has been great – a lot easier and a lot quicker than I thought,’ she says. A ‘great fan’ of arbitration as a way of keeping things confidential and out of court, Hicks has been busy with a pre and postnups, many of them collaborative. ‘It hasn’t been tested, but I would anticipate that it’s going to be far better on the enforceability front,’ she says of the process. ‘You can’t say you didn’t understand anything because you’re in a meeting where everything’s explained.’
David Hodson founded the International Family Law Group in 2007, when ‘nobody in their right mind would set up a law firm’. ‘But we did,’ he recalls. ‘We have had some unhappy economic times since.’ Fast forward 13 years and the move has certainly paid off. ‘We take pride in being ahead of the game,’ says Hodson, revealing that the firm had mastered remote working before many in the family law sphere even contemplated it. Hodson is in touch with a large network of lawyers across the globe. ‘We simply pick up the phone and say, “Look, here’s the circumstances – do we issue in England or Brazil?” And that’s the heart of what we do.’
Henry Hood’s six-partner team at Hunters is known for punching above its weight, whether that’s in the range of clients it acts for or the level of cases it handles. ‘Hunters blends the old and the new,’ he says. ‘We are the fifth- oldest law firm in the country and have acted for some families for generations. However, we aim to provide a modern, one-stop service.’ A specialist in landed estates, Hood has recently been involved in ‘kickstarting discussions in a high-value case which ended up in a favourable negotiated settlement where a full-blown trial seemed inevitable’. He has also reached ‘a very inventive deal’ to settle a matter involving a long-term lease of commercial warehouse premises.
A case involving the Russian billionaire Farkhad Akhmedov has kept Frances Hughes busy in recent months. The founding partner at Hughes Fowler Carruthers has been representing the oil and gas tycoon and his son Temur in their High Court battle with Temur’s mother Tatiana Akhmedova, who was awarded £453 million in 2016. Other than the press scrutiny and vast sums of money involved, the case is notable for the involvement of Burford Capital, a litigation funding business that is footing the bill for Ms Akhmedova’s legal fees. ‘Straightforward litigation funding meets a public need,’ Hughes tells Spear’s. ‘But when the funding amounts to a conditional fee arrangement, there are a lot of sharks out there. I think It is a can of worms.’ Hughes, a former governor at large of the International Academy of Family Lawyers, says that part of the reason she and other female lawyers reached the top […]
For Deborah Jeff, the past year has been characterised by major cases: ‘I’ve been working with two trust funds in the Isle of Man worth £13 million, and a well-known singer/songwriter’s prenup.’ Seddons has also been entrusted with the small matter of the prime minister’s legal affairs. Jeff’s colleague Neil Russell, a partner in the firm’s family department, counts Boris Johnson among a raft of high-profile, UHNW and celebrity clients. What sets Jeff apart, however, is the respect she commands in the mental health community, and her expertise in how divorces can affect the emotional wellbeing of clients. ‘I have a focus on the psychological impact of divorce. It happened by chance when I realised that a lot of my clients have psychotherapists to get through the process,’ Jeff explains.
Spear’s catches up with Davina Katz for the second time since she went it alone and started Katz Partners, and according to the former Schillings lawyer the response has been overwhelming: ‘The first year has been even better than expected, both in terms of how much work we’re doing and the quality of that work.’ Katz is known for untangling highly complex cases where ‘hundreds of millions rather than tens of millions of pounds are at stake’, many of which are in the public eye. ‘I attract high-profile work and a client base who recognise that their cases aren’t straightforward,’ she says. She also keeps her specialisms of marital contracts, prenups and postnups ticking over: ‘Other practitioners shy away from that sort of work because it is fairly embryonic in terms of the law. The feeling among the old guard is that it is all a bit new, whereas we […]
Jane Keir is experiencing the celebrity status familiar to her high-profile clients during her annual catch-up with Spear’s. Not only was she nominated for Family Lawyer of the Year at our 2019 Wealth Management Awards, she has also been featured as ‘Lawyer in the news’ in the Law Society Gazette for securing £400,000 compensation for her client, a law firm partner who sacrificed her career for her family, in RC v JC. ‘I kind of knew after the first meeting with my client. I thought, “Oh, she’s got a compensation claim there,”’ Keir explains, even though they are ‘incredibly rare’. But Mr Justice Moor’s decision to award that sum, in addition to an equal split on assets worth nearly £10 million, for what he called a ‘relationship-generated disadvantage’, was a nice surprise. ‘We were warned in this case, “Don’t treat it as though the floodgates are opening,” she adds. ‘But […]
Based in the SKO offices in Edinburgh, Rachael Kelsey is proud of her ‘good, small jurisdiction’. ‘The majority of interesting work is done by a small number of practitioners, and a small number of cases are litigated, unlike down south,’ she says. Coronavirus has hit hard, though. ‘We’re having to totally revisit settlement structures because assumptions made in January are no longer relevant,’ says Kelsey. However, she sees a chance to modernise: ‘There has been a huge acceleration in new ways of working that we have been edging towards. I am now [video-conferencing] with clients who I would habitually have met before and in a matter of weeks we have created a model to allow arbitration over video conference.’
Carly Kinch started at Stewarts as a paralegal in 2006, working her way through the echelons to senior associate and finally making partner in 2018. She is now involved in the most complex and high-value litigations for the highest-level clients, which include a family with assets of more than $3 billion and a well-known telecoms pioneer. Described by her clients as ‘tenacious’, Kinch specialises in complex financial issues, including the negotiation and drafting of marital agreements, international issues, trusts, family businesses, inherited wealth and children disputes. Whatever she is working on, she stresses the importance of giving the ‘Rolls-Royce service’.
Lots of mediation, arbitration and litigation is how Suzanne Kingston describes her 2019. With more than 30 years in the industry, she has an enviable track record of advising on complex financial issues and children arrangements. Kingston has noticed that arbitration is ‘absolutely’ gaining traction. ‘It’s taken a while, but I think the court system is in disarray, and so people are looking for out-of-court alternatives,’ she says, noting that mediation is also on the rise. Many clients she says, are ‘fed up’ with taking things to court and waiting a long time. ‘They want to take it back into their own hands and think of dealing with things outside the court if they can.’
London remains attractive to the international wealthy, says Renato Labi, a partner at Hughes Fowler Carruthers. As a result, most of his time is spent on financial disputes around divorce where there is an ‘international aspect’. Labi also deals with prenups worth hundreds of millions. He prefers it when couples begin this process early. ‘But you also get the people who phone you up and say, “We’re getting married in three weeks.” That can be quite stressful.’ In the wake of Brexit, Labi says, there may be ‘a rush of people filing for divorce. It could make a very dramatic difference as to whether someone has to part with half the wealth they have built up during the course of the marriage or not.’
‘Utterly brilliant’ and ‘one of the best family lawyers in the industry’ are among the testimonials from clients of Jeremy Levison. The founding partner of his boutique has more than 40 years’ experience of complex financial disputes, especially those with an international dimension. His cross- border experiences led him to found the International Academy of Family Lawyers in 1986, which pools together legal expertise across 40 states to improve the overall quality of client service. Levison, a member of the American Bar Association and the Central London Collaborative Forum, is also chairman of the Old Carthusian Art Society and owns a gallery in Bermondsey Street.
In a field that is dominated by women – especially the so-called ‘Queen Bees’ – Julian Lipson is considered by many to be the leading man. In fact, when Spear’s asked the lawyers in this year’s Family Law Index to say who, from outside their own firm, they would instruct for their own (hypothetical) divorce, Lipson was tied for second place ( with three other lawyers just behind Fiona Shackleton). However, he doesn’t believe clients select representation on the basis of gender. ‘I don’t think people give two hoots these days about whether they’ve got a man or a woman,’ he says. ‘They want someone who’s really good, and with whom they have a chemistry.’ Many clients also want to have ‘the shortest divorce in history’, notes Lipson, who often acts for (and against) household names and, as a fluent French speaker, in cases with an international dimension. ‘They want […]
Things have been ‘slightly different’ for Charles Russell Speechlys’ star partner William Longrigg. ‘I was spending quite a lot of time out of the office, and now I’m spending quite a lot of time in the office,’ quips the highly international practitioner. Longrigg, a former Spear’s Family Lawyer of the Year, is a veritable specialist in the nuts and bolts of divorce, financial relief and private law children cases. He’s been conducting a ‘lot of work’ with ‘major players’ over the past year – work he describes as ‘more complex, more complicated, more intellectually challenging, less straightforward’. However, he adds, ‘It’s been very rewarding.’
Lewis Marks has been practising family law since 1995 and is now a mainstay in the top band of silks specialising in the field. With his expertise in big-money financial remedies and ‘Schedule 1’ cases, Marks is one of the greats of the family bar. His skill set, which entails advocacy, numeracy and client skills, is deployed mainly in cases surrounding the valuation and liquidation of assets in divorce proceedings – an area that has been in constant flux since White v White in 2000. Indeed, his competence and capability are such that it would not surprise peers if he could ‘walk on water’. In less hyperbolic terms, perhaps, Marks’ judgement is renowned as ‘exceptional’.
Prenups and postnups continue to be a ‘constant source’ of work for William Massey, who heads up the family and disputes team at Farrer & Co. ‘The issues can be very difficult,’ he says. You are advising on a potential divorce and agreeing a divorce settlement at a time when two people are in love with each other and about to get married.’ Massey is keen to tell Spear’s about the reported cases he’s worked on over the past year, one of which involved a financial remedies order being set aside twice on the basis on the husband’s material nondisclosure. ‘To our knowledge, that is the first time that has ever been done,’ he notes.
Jane McDonagh is Simons Muirhead & Burton’s ‘sensible, unflappable and approachable’ head of family, according to industry commentators, who praise her for ‘holding her own against the top firms’. McDonagh’s practice covers complex finance and often involves an international angle; she also has niche expertise in Sharia law. Recent highlights include handling highly contested proceedings involving Ukraine, Egypt, Oman, Iran and Dubai. Her workload doubled in 2019, which required two partner hires. ‘There is no substitute for hard work,’ McDonagh tells Spear’s. ‘But it is incredibly rewarding too, to the right kind of person.’
‘I would say we’ve had another stellar year,’ reports Philip McGuirk, who, along with Rebecca Cockcroft, is co-head of the family department at Payne Hicks Beach. McGuirk has observed rising demand among clients for private financial dispute resolution (FDR), and he also believes other methods of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) have much in their favour. ‘I can see private children mediation taking off,’ he says. However, the days of ‘divorce tourism’ may be numbered. ‘I think the Court is coming down rather more harshly on speculative forum shopping – divorce tourists, claimants who are prepared to pursue highly speculative claims. And that’s a good thing.’
For Laura Naser, the past year has been one that she will ‘struggle to replicate’. Her book, The Family Lawyer’s Guide to Separation and Divorce, has been published, and that reflects her commitment to doing family law differently; she is active on her Instagram account (@thefamilylawyer) and has written articles for popular outlets and spoken on podcasts with influencers. ‘‘People might not immediately think to use Instagram for family law, but I am breaking down barriers and reaching people,’ says Naser. Naser specialises in HNW and international aspects of finance and private children disputes, and recently resolved by consent a highly litigated case covering all areas of family law.
Before Spear’s meets Diana Parker, a partner at Withers and one of family law’s ‘Queen Bees’, one industry figure issues a friendly warning: ‘She’s an ice queen.’ This is not the only way Parker’s reputation precedes her. She became Britain’s first female senior partner of a City law firm in 1998 and has a CV packed with high-profile reported cases, including Britain’s first £1 billion divorce. Sure enough, when we meet at Withers HQ, the handshake offered is rebuffed. A week or so later, when the enormity of the pandemic becomes clear, everyone else will be doing the same. Parker is merely thoughtful – and ahead of the curve. This isn’t atypical, suggests a top barrister who knows her well. ‘She may come across as clipped. But she isn’t. She’s shy. She won’t always look you in the eye but, I tell you: the Roman Abramoviches of the world go […]
For Simon Pigott there’s no such thing as a ‘good’ divorce, only ‘slightly less unpleasant’ ones. ‘No one goes through it with any sense of pleasure,’ he tells Spear’s. ‘As solicitors, our role is to understand that and recognise that for a lot of clients it is all-consuming and worries them hugely.’ It’s the sort of plain-speaking wisdom that has made Pigott’s firm an outlier. Co-founded by Pigott in 1998, it specialises solely in family law and continues to draw in big-money cases. Despite expanding, the firm remains true to its boutique ethos. ‘We always do what’s best for them and it goes at a pace that suits them,’ he says. ‘We don’t want to fight unless we have to.
Back in 1996, Maggie Rae was on Princess Diana’s side of the table in her divorce from Prince Charles. Today she works on financial and children matters, with the latter often concerning which school the offspring of separated parents should attend. ‘We’ll send them to family arbitration,’ says Rae. ‘That’s usually much better than going to court. That’s one of the real horrors of the system… The court service has been cut to the bone – it’s an outrage.’ However, she adds, there is cause for optimism. ‘Mr Justice Mostyn has taken a really good initiative with establishment of the financial remedy courts. I fully support it. But it will not work unless it’s properly resourced.’
An experienced practitioner in all aspects of family law, RussellCooke partner Fiona Read is described by peers as ‘fiercely intelligent and extremely able’. She also serves as a district judge in the family and civil courts, where she has been elected to hear private children disputes between parents – giving her valuable insight and perspective. Read has noted developments in what may constitute unreasonable behaviour, plus an increase in arbitrations and financial dispute resolutions: ‘This is probably as a result of cases being allocated away from the central family court and the limited time now being allowed for family cases in the courts.’
‘Incredible’ is how Rosie Schumm describes the past year for her department. The amiable partner joined Forsters from Wedlake Bell in 2017, and reports that the ‘calibre and quantity’ of cases has been ‘amazing’. Her team is increasingly working with clients in private hearings, outside the ‘rabbit warren’ that is the family and high courts. The alternative is a ‘much more comfortable and tailored environment that suits the particular needs in a case’. The process has helped clients to ‘feel like the judge is actually taking time to listen to them, to read the papers, to digest, to understand what the case is actually about’, she tells Spear’s.
Baroness Shackleton of Belgravia is Britain’s most feared and revered divorce lawyer. It’s not just Spear’s saying this, but her peers in the profession too. We asked members of the 2020 edition of our Family Law Index to say who they would instruct in their own – hypothetical – divorce. In reply, her name was uttered more than any other. One observer remarks that she is ‘probably the greatest family lawyer of all time’. Shackleton almost never speaks to the press, but her cases – and outfits – are pored over by the newspapers. Clients have included Prince Charles, Paul McCartney, Stephen Hawking, Liam Gallagher and most recently Princess Haya bint Hussein of Jordan. Earlier this year, Shackleton won a preliminary judgment for the princess at the High Court against her estranged husband, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai. The fact-finding judgment was described as ‘damning’ by […]
A specialist in ‘highly complex’ financial remedy cases, Jonathan Southgate QC is a part of the highly regarded team at 29 Bedford Row, one of the city’s pre-eminent family chambers. He’s no stranger to high-profile clients. He led the legal team for TV personality Ant McPartlin in his 2018 divorce, and there is a litany of reported cases in his long CV to boot. It’s a strong record that has won Southgate many peers across the industry. ‘Very commercial and highly strategic, with an ability to look at the big picture as well as attend to the minute detail,’ remarks one. ‘Huge stamina, work rate, and a great team player.’
James Stewart reports a ‘massively busy year of growth’ at Penningtons Manches Cooper. Among the firm’s high-profile cases was Charles Villiers’ jurisdictional dispute, which has brought to the fore London’s status as the world’s ‘divorce capital’. Stewart has strong opinions on the matter: ‘Scotland is the most parsimonious in terms of inherited and acquired assets, whereas here, spousal needs are paramount. Villiers highlights the difference between English and Scottish law and nothing else.’ Stewart describes himself as, first and foremost an international family lawyer: ‘Most UHNW cases scheduled for a final hearing settle in advance, and they settle well for my clients.’
‘She’s very cool,’ says one lawyer of Lucy Stone, QEB’s eminent matrimonial silk, whose office has an ounce of rock ’n’ roll like her reputation in the family law field. On the wall sits a thank you plaque from a Rolling Stone she represented – emblazoned with the instantly recognisable insignia of Mick Jagger’s mouth. Stone had a number of landmark cases last year, including the reported XW v XH in the Court of Appeal, where a special contribution argument was overturned. Another was RC v JC, where a woman was awarded £400,000 compensation for giving up her legal career for her family, which was ruled ‘a relationshipgenerated disadvantage’.
Since joining ten years ago as a trainee, Frederick Tatham has swiftly moved up the ranks at Farrer & Co. It’s largely thanks to his part in a string of landmark and high-profile cases, including Prest V Petrodel and more recently Goddard Watts v Goddard Watts. The latter, which followed a separation in 2009, finally concluded last year with Tatham and his team succeeding in setting aside a court order for the second time. ‘The judge described it as vanishingly rare and possibly unique,’ he tells Spear’s proudly. A broad adviser, Tatham has built a specialism in high-value and complex matrimonial finance disputes, often encompassing an international element.
‘Somebody in my case is always awake,’ jokes Catherine Thomas about the time zones her cases cover due to their cross-border nature. Recent negotiations have spanned Australia, New York, Europe and South Africa. Spear’s visits Dawson Cornwell’s elegantly hidden offices. ‘It’s a natural fit,’ she says of her new abode. More pleasing, she says, is the fact that more than 90 per cent of new clients have an international nexus. Thomas has been increasingly using ‘shuttle negotiations’, where lawyers meet separately to thrash out an agreement. ‘You can do it in one meeting if something’s timesensitive and clients want the good deal done quickly,’ she says.
Suzanne Todd’s practice is multi-jurisdictional, in line with Withers’ global presence. ‘I’ve been project-managing 11 lawyers,’ the family law head tells Spear’s of one such complex divorce. What sets Todd apart from others in the industry is her connection with Italy. More than 60 per cent of her cases have an Italian nexus, thanks to a high degree of referral from satisfied clients. ‘Even better referral sources are the other side of old clients,’ she says. Will Europe see a rise in divorce petitions when lockdown ends, as reportedly happened in China? ‘They say people won’t remember what you said, they’ll remember how you made them feel,’ she says.
Spear’s steals a rare moment (prior to lockdown) to lunch with Raymond Tooth, who was delighted with the break from an ‘exceptionally busy’ month. ‘Divorce goes on in the good times and the bad times – human nature doesn’t change,’ says Tooth, who has 50-plus years in the field. He still believes in the sanctity of marriage and relationships but adds a condition: ‘The best advice is to live together, apart. You have your home, she has her home.’ Although Tooth still carries his ‘Jaws’ moniker, he rarely hunts alone. He recently formed a duo with Natasha Slabas, whose skills in children matters and Russian, Swiss and Ukrainian aspects of family law are shining through.
‘Cool, calm and collected, with a constructive approach to solving relationship issues’ is how a rival firm describes Joe Vaitilingam. Vaitilingam Kay provides clients with ‘Magic Circle’ service ‘without the ginormous price tag’. The firm is supported by cloud-based systems, which enables them to operate more cheaply and efficiently, even where big-money cases are concerned. Such innovation is necessary, Vaitilingam has previously told Spear’s, not only to differentiate oneself in a competitive landscape, but also to reduce the complexity of cases. He resented the fact that there’s a ‘ludicrous’ volume of lawyers scrambling after cases with the biggest sum at stake
‘It’s absolutely mammoth – huge teams on both sides, and it was one of my usual suspects that was on the other side,’ says Ayesha Vardag about representing a billionaire husband recently where the wife ‘perpetrated a very grave deceit’. The complications produced ‘a great deal of novel law, novel arguments and the involvement of the Civil Division’. The woman the media refer to as the ‘diva of divorce’ has expanded her influence since founding her practice in 2005 and is determined to be ‘the absolutely unquestioned leader’. Her strategy? A combination of ‘fearlessness’, ‘aggression’, ‘empathy’ and ‘intuition’. ‘You’ve actually got to care about what you’re doing,’ she says.
‘Helen Ward is not merely one of the best, but the best family lawyer in London,’ Lewis Marks QC once said. And the endorsements keep coming. One top lawyer from a rival firm recounts to Spear’s a day in court when he noticed his client say something he shouldn’t have. Privately, the lawyer rejoiced for a moment as the opposing barrister seemed to have glossed over it. But relief turned to anguish a moment later when a note was passed. Ward had spotted the error and was on to it like a flash. Perhaps that’s why a client once described her as ‘a tigress who never sleeps’ and told Tatler: ‘Helen has a mind like a jewelled watch and a wise and honest heart – a very rare combination.’ At any rate, Lady Helen Ward’s place at the pinnacle of the profession seems safe for some time to come, as […]
Nicholas Westley began his career in family law with an eight-year spell as a barrister at QEB, but he joined law firm Lee & Thompson in 2013 before moving to Harbottle & Lewis, where he is a partner, in 2017. Being a solicitor, he says, means ‘you go to court less often, you sort things out yourself. And you make a deal only when you’re happy with it and it’s good for your client.’ Part of the job is to understand that you can be called on by clients ‘24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days of the year’. He learned that from his colleague Catherine Bedford, who heads up the family team at Harbottle: ‘She’s brilliant – a conductor who brings everything together.’
Bradley Williams catches a moment to talk to Spear’s in the midst of a big-money case in the High Court. ‘It’s taking up all my time,’ he tells us. Williams specialises in cases involving trusts. He almost fell into this niche: ‘I did one huge trust case that basically involved every test conceivable to try to pierce the corporate veil. We did so successfully, and it gave me every experience I could ever need.’ Meanwhile, he counters suggestions that English courts are more favourable to the financially weaker spouse: ‘Ultimately, we have a system that is based on fairness. I think both parties will realise that the judge is doing their very best to provide this.’
Anna Worwood is a veritable all-rounder. A leading authority on relocation, she has edited a textbook on it and is often instructed in some of the most challenging cases involving related issues and complex finances. ‘I was personally selected by an intermediary to act on behalf of an international UHNW client to deal with his international children matters as well as his divorce and financial issues,’ she says. Worwood’s record on child cases has also won her acclaim from peers. ‘She is always such a pleasure to work with – she has great judgement, an agile legal mind and a wonderful way with clients,’ says one. ‘A client always has a first-class service with Anna.’