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The Times

Friday, May 12 2017

Frances Gibb and Jonathan Ames bring this morning’s must-read of all things legal, including news, comment and gossip.


  • Judge makes record divorce award of £453m
  • Leading Scots solicitors struck off over public funds fraud
  • Longer court sitting hours ‘will not improve access’
  • First not-for-profit law firm more than ‘hippy-dippy’ idealism
  • Regulator could end free current accounts
  • Comment: Training required to represent vulnerable young people
  • The Churn: Clyde & Co heads south of the border
  • Blue Bag diary: In knots over flexible working

Plus, see our plans for Brief Premium and archive of articles so far. Tweet us @TimesLaw with your views.

Story of the Day

Judge makes record divorce award of £453m

A Russian-born oil and gas trader has been ordered to pay his estranged wife £453 million in what is thought to be the biggest divorce award by a British judge.

Mr Justice Haddon-Cave said that the former wife had contributed an equal share to the marriage as he made his ruling after a private hearing in the High Court’s family division in London. The judge said he had awarded the woman 41.5 per cent of the total marital assets of just over £1 billion, which she argued were built up during the couple’s 20-year marriage “through equal contributions to the welfare of the family”.

The wife, 44, who was born in Eastern Europe, had been a “housewife and mother throughout the marriage”, the judge said. She was a “hands-on mother who cared for and brought up couple’s two boys herself in Surrey without the assistance of a nanny”, and she helped to care for her husband’s child from his first marriage.

The award was immediately described as an indication of the “generosity” of English judges to the “financially weaker spouse”. David Lister, a family partner at Mishcon de Reya, said: “I believe this is the biggest award the courts have made – and shows how generous the courts are in this country dealing with international cases of this kind. It confirms London’s position as the divorce capital of the world.”

In the previous record award in the UK Courts, Jamie Cooper-Hohn, wife of the financier Sir Chris Hohn, was awarded more than £330 million in late 2014. There are thought to have been bigger settlements reached between divorcing couples that do not go to court, however.

Julian Lipson, a partner at the London law firm Withers, said: “It is extremely unusual for divorces involving this level of money to be fully litigated in court. It is almost unheard of. Presumably in this case, there was a huge difference of opinion between the parties. The costs of a full court hearing were justified because it was the only way to arrive at a resolution.”

Deborah Jeff, head of the family department of the law firm Seddons, said there had been a slight departure from equality in the case, perhaps to recognise the husband’s “exceptional contribution as an individual with a spark of genius”. “However, that’s a high hurdle to clear and the exceptional contribution argument is rarely accepted,” she said.

The wife’s legal team was led by Baroness Shackleton of the law firm Payne Hicks Beach, who instructed barristers Nigel Dyer, QC, of 1 Hare Court in the Temple.

The husband was not represented and had failed to attend any hearings, in breach of various orders. In 2015 he had been ordered to attend a pre-trial (financial dispute resolution hearing) but shortly before informed the court that he had lost his passport containing his English visa and attended by video-link from his yacht in the Caribbean.

News Round Up
Leading Scots solicitors struck off over public funds fraud

Two more partners at a leading Scottish law firm have been struck off for professional misconduct because of the misuse of public funds, Mike Wade reports.

Alan Miller and James Price of Ross Harper suffered the same fate as their former colleagues Cameron Fyfe and Alan Susskind, who were formally removed from the professional roll by the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal on Wednesday.

Joseph Mullen and Paul McHolland, also partners in the firm, were censured by the tribunal but are still able to practice as solicitors.

The rulings come after Cameron Fyfe (pictured) and Alan Susskind were found guilty of a “wrongful and improper use of clients’ funds” after routinely withholding legal aid for services including secretarial support, expert witness consultancies and medical expertise.

Instead, funds assigned to a case by the Scottish Legal Aid Board lay in “a drawer” — the firm’s bank account — for up to two years, helping the business to balance its books after the 2008 financial crash. Ross Harper, once one of the best-known solicitors’ practices in Scotland, went out of business in 2012.

Fyfe was working as a consultant when he was first found guilty of professional misconduct last year by the Scottish Solicitors’ Discipline Tribunal. He appealed against the decision and, pending an appeal, went on to bring a successful civil action for rape against the footballers David Goodwillie and David Robertson on behalf of Denise Clair.

The case was heard in January at the Court of Session where Lord Armstrong, the judge, said that he found the evidence for Ms Clair to be “cogent, persuasive and compelling”.

The following month, in the same court, Lady Dorrian dismissed Fyfe’s challenge that his name should not be struck from the roll. At the time, Fyfe’s legal team argued that the decision was “grossly disproportionate”.

Susskind, who used to lecture in legal practice management at Strathclyde University, is from an eminent legal family. Richard Susskind, his brother, is an expert in the field of information technology and law.

Lorna Jack, chief executive of the Law Society of Scotland, the profession’s regulator, said the decision to strike the solicitors from its roll would help maintain public trust in solicitors.

Longer court sitting hours ‘will not improve access’

Claims that extending court sitting hours will improve access to justice are “pure hypocrisy”, senior barristers have said as they mount a campaign against a government trial scheme.

The Courts and Tribunals Service had planned to launch a trial of late night courts this month to understand how to make the system more flexible. The six-month pilot scheme has been delayed because of the snap general election, but it is expected to be resurrected if the Conservatives form the next government.

According to several barristers, the scheme is doomed to failure because it will rely on lawyers who are already under pressure from funding cuts and civil justice reforms.

Two silks at Exchange Chambers, which is based in Liverpool, Manchester and Leeds, attacked the plan yesterday. “It is pure hypocrisy to run this pilot scheme on the basis of improving access to justice for working people,” said Will Waldron, QC. “Excessive court fees and withdrawal of public funding across the board – not court opening hours – are compromising access to justice. The Ministry of Justice is fiddling while Rome burns. The court system is on its knees and gimmicks like this won’t fix it.”

His chambers-mate Amanda Yip, QC, added that the proposed regime would adversely affect women more than men. “It will make childcare impossible - financially, practically and emotionally,” she said. “Junior barristers will feel they have to work extended court hours if asked to do so even at the risk of never seeing their children.”

Francis FitzGibbon, QC, of Doughty Street Chambers in London and the chairman of the Criminal Bar Association, made a similar argument in The Times yesterday.

First not-for-profit law firm more than ‘hippy-dippy’ idealism

Britain’s first not-for-profit criminal defence law firm has opened in south London with the founder denying that the project is based on “hippy-dippy, woolly-headed” idealism.

Rhona Friedman, the co-founder of Commons, said the firm hoped to cover clients across the capital and potentially beyond. She told the website Legal Voice: “We run as a co-operative, so we will always be more of a boutique firm. If the model is successful, it’d be great if others took it on and ran with it.”

The firm has been launched as a community interest company – a hybrid structure falling between a limited liability company and a charity that is designed for social enterprises. Surpluses will be reinvested in the business or in the community.

According to the report, the firm’s income derives from three strands: a standard legal aid contract for police station and magistrate’s court work, and Crown Court and Court of Appeal cases; some private clients; and grant funding for projects, training and other community work.

Regulator could end free current accounts

There could be no more free current accounts for those in credit with their banks, lawyers warned yesterday as regulators launched a review of retail financial services.

The Financial Conduct Authority announced a significant study that it said was designed “to understand the impact of changes in retail banking business models and the implications for our objectives to protect consumers and promote effective competition”. The authority said it intended to publish a “project update” in about a year, which would include a preliminary analysis.

But City of London lawyers were warned that the banks and their customers might not be pleased with the process, which is beginning soon after a similar review by the competition authorities, or the outcome.

Jake Green, a regulation partner at the law firm Ashurst, said: “Retail banks may not be particularly pleased with yet another massive information gathering exercise from the regulator so quickly after some of the recent market study initiatives, irrespective of whether potential outcomes may help them in the long run.”

Green predicted that the review “could pit the traditional and the challenger bank business model against each other and could even lead to the end of free in-credit accounts that we've long known”.

In Brief

Claims manager fined £400k for 90m nuisance calls – The Times

Slater and Gordon seeks £600m over Quindell's 'fraudulent misrepresentation' – Law Gazette

Biggest US law firms fared best in first quarter – The American Lawyer


Vulnerable children not impressed by barristers’ textbooks Kate Aubrey-Johnson

Like so many pupil criminal law barristers, I was eager to get “on my feet” at the start of my career. To stand up in court, use the legal analysis and advocacy skills I had spent several years honing and achieve justice for my clients.

For much of the first few months, I represented teenagers in Stratford youth court, where the majority of my clients were black and Asian boys. Many were no longer in mainstream education and the lucky ones were learning vocational skills or in pupil referral units.

I knew next to nothing about education law, but it seemed to me that the greatest prospect of stopping these kids wandering around committing offences was to get them back into school. Many children in the criminal justice system have been out of school for long periods; often they have the reading and literacy levels of much younger children. Many of the teenagers I represented had recognised special education needs that meant they were given additional help in school to help them take part in lessons.

Yet the courts were invariably resistant to arguments that they were unable to effectively participate in adversarial court proceedings, and that they needed modifications or adaptations to the court process. I learnt many things in those first few months that they don’t teach in bar school. That no child or young person is going to open up to their lawyer unless they trust you, that they need to know you are on their side, that carrying around Archbold was not going to impress them.

But what mattered more was finding out about their backgrounds, spending enough time with them to discover if they were autistic, had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or how their family circumstances were affecting them. Raising arguments with the Crown Prosecution Service about a defendant’s background circumstances could lead to cases being discontinued or cases being diverted. All of this depended on building a strong rapport with the young people and ascertaining important background information.

Fifteen years on, not enough has changed. Children are still being represented in criminal courts across the country by lawyers who have little or no training in youth justice law. But beneath the surface, a quiet revolution is taking place. All the main legal professional bodies – the Criminal Bar Association, the Bar Standards Board, The Law Society, Solicitors Regulation Authority, and the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives – now recognise that youth advocates should be specially trained and equipped with the communication skills they need to engage with vulnerable young people, and are taking steps to achieve this for their members.

These are changes which would have been unthinkable when the Youth Justice Legal Centre was founded three years ago. But there is still a mountain to climb, but the days when junior barristers were expected to bluff their way through youth court work before moving to other “more serious” crown court work will soon be behind us.

Kate Aubrey-Johnson is a barrister and mediator, who is the director of the Youth Justice Legal Centre, which was founded by Just for Kids Law; the centre is holding is first youth justice summit in London today

Tweet of the Day

I am glad @jbrowder1 is focused on lawyers and not accountants #disruption #AI #sagesummit #chatbot

Tom Hood @tomhood

Blue Bag

Firm in knots over flexible working

“An option to work agilely is now open to all lawyers and staff at Travers Smith,” the City of London law firm has announced with some fanfare, raising the immediate question of just how many part-time gymnasts and trapeze artists the practice employs.

Flexible working is very much part of the legal profession zeitgeist, with large commercial law firms desperate to prove that they are not the 24-7 sweatshops that their reputations suggest. But defining exactly what agility and flexibility means can be tricky.

Travers Smith has a pop, but not an entirely successful one. “Working agilely means working whenever and wherever is most appropriate,” says the firm, “if an individual’s role, personal development requirements and business needs permit.” Frankly, that could mean almost anything.

However one defines agile working, the firm’s managing partner, David Patient, attempts to describe its benefits. “In fostering an environment in which agile working is valued and considered as normal practice,” he says, “we hope that our people will have more control and autonomy over where and when they work, and that this will further increase the responsiveness and effectiveness of the firm.”

Who will be the first brave Travers Smith junior associate to phone the departmental partner on a warm July day to say “I feel it is most appropriate for me to be working from the seaside today”?

Posh dinner at the Bar

A few weeks ago we highlighted a social media debate over just how posh one had to be to feel at home at the Bar of England and Wales. Hackles were raised and subsided.

But now a reader has contacted us clearly with the aim of getting those hackles up again. The reader, who has worked in chambers, relates a story about a barrister who was charged with organising the chambers’ Christmas lunch.

The lawyer naturally opted for a very up market venue and menu. When some of the non-qualified staff expressed discomfort the message back from the barristers was succinct: “We're inviting them to our world, they ought to be grateful.”

Another barrister who was relocating from the provinces to London told our reader that he was “buying an artisan’s dwelling in Hampstead” – for £4 million.

The Brief awaits feedback in the never too posh to be called to the Bar debate.

The Churn

A run down of the big partner and team moves this week

Clyde & Co heads south of the border

Clyde & Co, the City of London maritime, aviation and insurance specialist law firm, has opened its first office in Mexico as the practice’s assault on North America continues.

The firm has taken over Garza Tello & Asociados, a four-partner, 23-lawyer operation in Mexico City. Clyde & Co has expanded significantly in the US over the past ten years, most recently opening an office in Miami.

Back in the City, the firm recruited Gemma Brannigan as partner to its healthcare group. She moves from Capsticks.

There have been other international developments for City firms as Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, the Anglo-German member of the “magic circle”, has named Georgia Dawson as its regional managing partner for Asia. She replaces Robert Ashworth, who has just finished an extended six-year term in the role.

Kirkland & Ellis, one of the 100 or so US firms in London, has pinched one of Freshfields’ lawyers to its partnership: Sean Lacey, a restructuring specialist, makes the move. Lacey clearly hasn’t been reading the trade press, however. The Lawyer magazine has just published a survey naming Kirkland & Ellis as the practice that students and associates would least like to join. Something to do with allegations of long hours and “robot partners”, Sean, so brace yourself.

Another US firm in the UK capital, Morrison & Foerster, is the latest to pick up a refugee from the defunct London office of King & Wood Malleson. Rob Mailer joins the Americans as a partner in its corporate group.

Neil Brand and John Cox have joined Bevan Brittan as partners from Clarke Willmott.

The regional firm Shoosmiths has pinched three lawyers from DLA Piper – Alex Kirkhope, JP Buckley and James Wood-Robertson – for its partnership.

And in the partnership round, the London niche fraud practice Byrne and Partners has promoted Emma Brooks and Adam Zoubir to its top table.

Catching up on some appointments from several days ago, James Stewart returns to Howard Kennedy as a partner after a sting at Laytons. And RPC – or Reynolds Porter Chamberlain, as The Brief fondly remembers the firm – boosted four lawyers to its partnership: Toby Higginson, Chris Ross, Toby Savage and David Thorne.

Quote of the Day

“Recall how a few monumental spirits turned history into legend. Laughable to you, no doubt, Mr Bardolph. But then lawyers and legends have little in common.”