Of course you are not going to get divorced… everything is completely fine, right? You have nothing to talk to each other about, sex is rare and embarrassing and his mobile phone bill is telling you strange things (not that you’ve looked) but you’re not going to get divorced. Well, even if you’re not going to get divorced (ever) here at The Midult we like to be prepared. So here is a list of the best divorce lawyers in the country. You know, just in case.
Where do we start with Baroness Shackleton? Maybe this story will help. One woman was so impressed after encountering Shackleton when she was representing her husband in their divorce that she hired her next time around. The client said: ‘I knew that if I ever got divorced again, I would want you on my side.’ So yes she’s tough, expensive and once got soaked by Heather Mills. But she also really cares, bakes unbelievably good brownies and never rests on her laurels. Which are considerable. ‘I’m a lawyer not a magician’ she says. We are not so sure.
Hourly rate: £640 plus £5k for initial meeting (to stop people contracting her out – this means if you meet one lawyer, even if it’s just the once, your spouse cannot hire them)
This is no ordinary lawyer. Bruce is a super-lawyer. And he’s funny. And a really good chess player, so don’t mess. The first thing he says to a client? ‘I hope that you never have to see me again’. Head of international family law at Farrer, he has this advice for those thinking about divorce: ‘Generally, avoid lawyers. Use us only as facilitators and for high level advice. And be insistent on knowing the financial cost.’ So it’s all mediation, mediation, mediation with him. That and Liverpool Football Club.
Hourly rate: £565 plus VAT
Stephen Foster is the avuncular partner and head of family law at Stewarts Law; he set up the department nine years ago and now has a dedicated team of 40. It’s all about calm with Foster. He is calm. He wants you to be calm – no dialing up the intensity, instead it’s all about getting everyone ‘off the ceiling’ and making rational decisions. Take the wife who wrote ‘thanking me both for obtaining a settlement which ensured financial security for the rest of her life but also for providing her with the emotional support, to give her the confidence to hold out for what she deserved.’ He also used to do competitive judo – his mantra is ‘you should always fight the person – not the belt.’ So let Foster handle the pressure. And he will.
Hourly rate: POA
Yes she has a great name. Yes she is a brilliant young associate with Payne Hicks Beach. Yes she is serenity itself, methodical, thoughtful and kind. But Costley is also progressive, and fierce on behalf of women who give up work to look after the family and then find themselves on the wrong end of a separation. In her spare time she enjoys a triathlon. And has completed two Iron Man races: ‘Competitive spirit runs deep in my family and I was racing against my twin sister, father and husband. Only one of the three got past me but I’ll get her on the next one…’ So yes, she can handle your divorce. But she also might get you back together, ‘we had four reconciliations one year and in each of those cases couples pulled it back from right on the brink. Divorce lawyers are not ice-hearted – a lot of us are actually champions of marriage.’
Hourly rate: Between £300-£400
Sandra Davis is a power partner at Mishcon de Reya – she’s been at the firm for over 30 years and ‘I still feel I can make a difference’. So she is all about ‘responsible lawyering.’ This means that she might recommend a therapist, or a child psychologist. There might even be a conversation about reputation management (Mishcon’s is a ‘full-service firm’ after all). And she will stay in touch afterwards. But that’s not to say she’s soft: ‘I am not afraid of the fight.’ Plus Davis is an expert in relocation – when one parent wants to leave the country with the children – she has never lost a case.
Hourly rate: £610
‘Superb bedside manner’ they say. That’s just the start of it. This Cambridge-educated partner at Stewarts Law, is clear, incisive, an excellent strategist and one of the best lawyers in London. So much so that fellow lawyers want her to handle their divorces – and they will fall over themselves to recommend her: ‘highly intelligent, industrious, constructive, fast, and she provides commercially-driven advice with no sitting on the fence or waffle.’ And when she grows up she wants to be Mary Berry.
Hourly rate: POA
Vardags’ managing director, Catherine Thomas, is a hot combination of ballsy and pragmatic. A partner at 26? Check. Strategist on huge international divorce cases such as the brutal Young vs Young? Check. Under 35? Check. Still, she is human (we’ve checked). She says her biggest work lesson has been learning to say no because ‘as soon as I became confident of my abilities I gained the courage to admit when I couldn’t do it all on my own.’ We bet she can.
Hourly rate: £500
Lipson is Oxford educated and a partner at Withers. So far so good. But what if we told you that after settling a difficult case one Christmas Eve ‘the clients and the two lawyers sat down like civilised people and had a glass of wine together.’ Now that is great. Maybe it’s his instant likeability – after law school he practiced his patter as a tour guide in London and Paris (he’s fluent in French). Or wealth of experience – he’s the go-to-guy for City professionals. The number one cause for divorce? ‘Usually people just don’t invest enough in the relationship.’ First thing he’ll ask you? ‘Before we get to any legal stuff, why don’t you tell me what you want to achieve from all of this?’ You’ll probably cry. But that’s ok.
Hourly rate: £525
Back in 1999 Diana Parker was the youngest and the first female senior partner of a City law firm. So you won’t be surprised that Parker can more than handle it if you are a tricky customer. ‘I get positive enjoyment out of working with difficult people’ she says. So take it to her if you are used to getting your own way, she relishes the challenge of ‘enabling people to see around the aspects of their personality that may be effective in some areas but are blocking progress in this one’. BTW her nickname is the Ice Queen.
Hourly rate: £600
Want a shit-hot rising star? Need a solid pre-nup? Then Carlyon’s your woman. Partner at Pennington Manches since 2013, she is regularly described as a lawyer on the up. Bright, brilliant and shimmeringly discreet, when not taking the cases of sports and media types, she’s riding a horse. Princess Charming.
Hourly rate: £365
Hughes Fowler Caruthers, they say, has been ‘built around the superb reputation of Frances Hughes.’ So this will cost you. But you can trust her. Hughes is an amazing lawyer: tough and empathetic at the same time. ‘It’s an odd combination’ she admits. So she will fight your corner, but, in a negotiation, ‘I am going to really look at what is in your best interest’. And this might not be what you think you want but, if you follow Hughes’ counsel you will be ‘grateful once you calm down’.
Hourly rate £625-£650
Partner at Stewarts Law, Debbie Chism is well aware that for the majority of her clients her office ‘is probably the last place they ever expected or wanted to be.’ So she’ll listen, and this is what she’ll ask you to do: ‘Communicate. Don’t let this go. Hard as it is, trying to keep a constructive dialogue with your former partner is crucial to sorting everything out as quickly and as straightforwardly as possible.’ And she will help. She really will. But don’t believe us. Believe one of her clients who told her ‘You are the only lawyer I know who actually makes my life EASIER.’ (Plus she has an Oxford Darts blue – ok darts is not a ‘blue’ sport but she did play for the University ladies team against Cambridge on a stage at the Oxford City football ground.)
Hourly rate: POA
‘You’d be proud to have Claire Gordon as your lawyer’ says our source. So what makes this partner at Farrer great? Maybe it’s her first question to a client: ‘What is worrying you most at the moment?’ Because she says, it’s easy for ‘lawyers to focus on what we think is most important, rather than what may be preying on a client’s mind.’ Integrity is essential to Gordon – as well as the occasional spin around a ballroom – and she has this advice to anyone looking for legal advice: ‘Make sure you like and trust your lawyer – you could be speaking to them a lot! Someone your friend found great may or may not suit your style, so go with your instincts.’ Oh and she’s a qualified divemaster.
Hourly rate: £440
You’ll be lucky to get hold of William Longrigg – he is forever jetting round the globe in his role as president of the prestigious International Academy of Family Law. But chase him if your case might be spread over several international jurisdictions – he’s an expert and speaks 3 languages (and we’re not even counting his German). And he is worth it – a family law star, he joined Charles Russell as a trainee in 1985. When not on a plane or in the office he’s happiest heading out West – he’s really a Shropshire lad.
Hourly rate: Approx. £485
Lady Helen Ward, by her marriage to former judge Sir Alan Ward, is passionate about her work. ‘I enjoy the job of being a lawyer’ she says. ‘And I am interested in the human condition.’ A partner at Stewarts Law, Ward is tough (she is Guy Ritchie’s lawyer – and if you don’t know who his ex is…) but fair: ‘I am not the right person for a client who is deliberately unreasonable or unmanageable’. So do try and behave.
Hourly rate: POA but it will be in the £600 zone
For Scottish Midults, there’s Rachael Kelsey, one of the founding directors of SKO (Sheehan Kelsey Oswald), based in Edinburgh. Kelsey is funny, direct and evangelical about mediation – she is passionate about positive solutions. She’s also an expert in the issues that arise for individuals in same-sex relationships. Kelsey recently described a piece of law as ‘classically Scottish – straightforward, certain, clear, structured, fair’. I think you get the picture.
Hourly rate: POA
He’s an OBE. The joint founder of the International Family Law Group. He’s written textbooks about family law. In short, an expert. And an extremely nice man: when asked about his worst case he describes one where he acted brilliantly for his client but was troubled that the result had been less favourable to the opposition. It ‘caused me to engage in law reform to produce fairer outcomes.’ And if that isn’t convincing enough, take the client who told him he ‘had enabled her to come through the dreadful divorce experience with integrity, self-respect and renewed assurance in herself.’ And when he is not coming to the rescue of divorcees-in-distress? ‘I am, I hope, a very peace-loving person but I enjoy books about battles in history. Waterloo, Trafalgar, Agincourt and others. It’s the tactics, the manoeuvring before and during the battle, the reason why it has occurred in the first place and why one was successful and the other was not.’
Hourly rate: Mediation and arbitration is £350 and legal work is £525
Did you watch Doctor Foster? The one with Suranne Jones and the break-up of a marriage? Of course you did. Well Philippa Dolan was the legal expert for the drama. A partner at Collyer Bristow she is a romantic at heart: Her best case? ‘The one where the husband cried in the witness box, the judge called for a short adjournment and the wife, my client, ran into his arms.’ Dolan is a good egg – and an obsessive one. She’s kept ‘a diary every day since I was 9. I’m obsessed with politics and watch the Parliament Channel.’ She’s also got ‘a bit of a thing about Charles II’.
Hourly rate: £395
She studied History at St Hilda’s, Oxford, so it’s not surprising that Sarah Higgins – head of the family group at Charles Russell Speechlys – likes to make a bit of history herself. She was the winning solicitor the first time the Court of Appeal adjudicated on the dissolution of a civil partnership. Clever, charming and committed.
Hourly rate: POA
A client tells us that Yorke is ‘crystal clear’ – ideal during a very confusing time. Another texts us one word ‘Nails’. So it’s no surprise to hear that Yorke loves her job as a managing associate for big hitter Mishcon de Reya – one minute writing a pre-nuptial agreement for an oligarch, the next she’s helping a wife to track down and freeze her husband’s assets abroad. So brace yourself.
Hourly rate: In the £300s
David Allison is a director of Family Law in Partnership. Things you should know? He settles the vast majority of his cases outside court, and is an expert at dealing with cohabitation issues. So if no one put a ring on it, he’s the one to call. He’s also very direct – his first words to you will be, ‘What was it that made you call me?”. And he’ll look after you, ‘it sounds corny, but to see people come through the other side of a divorce process and flourish is immensely rewarding.’ We should also warn you that he can, ‘sing a number of songs by the Wurzels (usually after a bottle of wine!).’ Combine Harvester, indeed.
Hourly rate: £425
If it’s a major player you are looking for, then try James Stewart. The son of a County Tyrone farmer, he has been a partner at Pennington Manches since 2006. Stewart recently acted for the co-founder of one of the world’s leading hedge funds, in a divorce that was concluded in less than six months. Six months? Seriously. He lives in Covent Garden (hence his twitter handle @jamesstewartwc2) and Emma Samms is a fan. We are not even joking.
Hourly rate: £495
London law firms were falling over themselves to keep Claire Hamilton-Russell in the Capital – no dice, she headed for Newbury and her own firm. So if you are a Home Counties divorcee-to-be then CH-R Family Solicitors should be your destination. There’s no ‘one size fits all’ style here – it’s a niche practice with a hugely experienced team. And Hamilton-Russell prides herself on being ‘human.’ Plus she will come to London. Phew.
Hourly rate: POA
(All prices will be plus VAT)