Harper does not kowtow: ‘He does not care whose toes he treads on in pursuing his clients’ objectives,’ a peer says of the former Withers partner. It’s not something he disagrees with, saying that despite his own establishment background he’s a meritocrat with ‘no truck for the old-school world’.
He criticises contemporaries for ‘toadying’ to those they see as important, before demonstrating that he’s no sycophant. ‘I can think of one QC who has never liked me since I told him his draft pre-nup was rubbish and I wanted a reduction in his fee,’ he says. ‘It was so appalling I had to bin it. We charge high-level fees, so clients expect 110 per cent.’
This forthrightness contrasts with his subtlety as a technical lawyer who often focuses on same-sex cases and crossjurisdiction matters. He admits he was once laughed at for proposing a meeting of twenty EU state lawyers to determine some coherent family law legislation. Now, as president of the European chapter of the IAML, he is lobbying Brussels for just that.
The jocular Harper is regarded by clients as a leading intellect. He says: ‘One major client rang me and said: “What is your brilliant idea for today?” I find it humbling that a client thinks I come up with brilliance.’ The praise continues. A peer told us: ‘Mark has the intellectual rigour to outwit every opponent in a jurisdiction case.’ Away from work one of his distractions is classic cars, the iconic Jaguar E-type being a favourite.