A solicitor of 36 years’ standing, founding partner Frances Hughes has had a ‘fantastically busy’ 12 months, including the leviathan six-month-long case Estrada v Juffali, in which her socialite client was awarded ‘the highest calibration of reasonable need’ by an English court. It was a success in a case of immense complexity, in which the husband was a billionaire sheikh with diplomatic immunity, on his deathbed. ‘If he had died at any point she’d have had no claims,’ Hughes says of her client. But cooperation between judges resulted in a timely judgement: ‘The speed with which we got through that process was very unusual,’ she recalls. Hughes, who studied English at Oxford University, set up the family law department at Bates, Wells & Braithwaite in the City in 1983, before co-founding HFC in 2001. Specialising in divorce and complex children’s cases, Hughes’ name is one of the best-known in the family law field, with colleagues and clients praising her for her formidable approach and matchless litigation skills. Hughes observes changing trends in her profession. ‘When I started out, family lawyers were beginning to differentiate themselves from commercial lawyers. All the lawyers we came across knew a lot about litigation and not very much about family law or family dynamics,’ she says. ‘Now I think it’s slightly reversed — there are quite a lot of lawyers who are a bit unused to litigation.