The Clintons lawyer once dubbed ‘The Terrier’ by the Sun on what it takes to be a skilled divorce lawyer
‘I DON'T REALLY know how I’m perceived externally,’ says the Clintons lawyer dubbed ‘The Terrier’ by The Sun, ‘but I do know that I’m perceived to be a first class, ball-breaking bitch.’
A reputation for toughness has led to Vernon’s involvement in some of the biggest divorce cases of recent times: famously, in 2004, she secured Karen Parlour, wife of Arsenal and England footballer Ray Parlour, a third of her husband’s earnings for four years.
Vernon’s vocation was settled at an early age. The youngest in her family, she was fourteen when her sister, eleven years older, divorced. ‘I saw what it did to her emotionally and I thought to myself “There’s a job I could make a difference in doing.”’
After starting at a ‘very old fashioned’ Inns of Court firm, the Leicester University graduate ended up at Lawrence Graham, subsequently moving to Stephenson Harwood for just four months before landing at Mishcon de Reya. She quickly found herself working on big money divorces, and discovered she had a flair for it: ‘I liked trawling through bank statements, cross-referencing things, and I like people.’
Part of the skill of being an effective lawyer is being aware of when not to deploy this forensic attention to detail as well as knowing when it is needed. Vernon is careful not to use her investigative abilities to sift through the emotional — and therefore legally irrelevant — aspects of a couple’s life: ‘Sir Paul Coleridge [a family judge], whom I respect enormously, has said that it’s “not our right to rummage in the attic of a marriage.” I think that’s right.’
Bad Conduct and Divorce
Here, Vernon points to a trend in the family judiciary noted by several of London’s top divorce lawyers — namely, their inclination to take account of legally irrelevant considerations pertaining to conduct during courtroom proceedings.
Another of the capital’s leading family solicitors states the problem thus: ‘A barrister’s not going to stand up in court and say: “This guy’s a complete shit because he disappeared with his secretary two years ago.” They don’t put it like that — but they might say [something like] “The parties separated two years ago, and at the time the husband had formed a relationship with a sixteen year old girl”, and they’re feeding into the court a conduct aspect.’
Vernon, always with an informed and balanced opinion to hand, says the best judges are aware of how the introduction of irrelevant, sensitive material could alter a case: ‘[In a divorce], you have a highly volatile situation, in which it would only take one spark to set the whole thing off. My experience is that a good judge at the right level will not take conduct into account.’
Vernon is friendly, funny, razor sharp, and not afraid to take on cases which don’t lend themselves to amicable settlement: ‘I don’t attract clients who want Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR). I saw a client this week whose husband walked out after 23 years, with another woman, and he hasn’t been in contact since. We know he’s worth millions, and she’s living with her parents on a grand a month. I’m not about to recommend ADR to her.’
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