Unusually for a family lawyer, Lesson spent two years at the bar before joining Mishcon de Reya in 2000. She specialises in separation, divorce, trusts and jurisdictional disputes, including complex, multi-jurisdictional cases involving significant assets. These often also include private children matters such as residence and contact, prohibited steps and specific issues. Many of Melissa’s clients have been high profile figures as well as those in legally sticky places geographically as well as emotionally: She is currently working for a client who wants to relocate with their children to Ukraine (moving from the court’s war zone to an actual war zone). A case that epitomises Mishcon’s dedication to helping clients caught between a rock and hard place when it comes to dealing with different and often difficult jurisdictions.
Described as ‘one of the sharpest private client lawyers in London’, she’s previously worked on the Minwalla v Minwalla case that set a precedent in identifying a husband’s assets despite the fact he had gone to great lengths to hide them. The court expressed scepticism as to his motives for creating certain offshore trusts; because during the marriage, he had set up a Jersey trust to hold shares in an offshore company and various properties. Following Lesson’s advocacy the court found, that the husband had never had any intention of respecting the formalities of the trust and corporate structure and that his real motivation had been to set up a screen to shield his resources. As a result the court decided he was therefore held to be the sole and true owner of the trust, which was therefore included as a marital asset and so subject to proceedings.
Perhaps as a result of her involvement in Minwalla v Minwalla, Lesson, who is fluent in French, sees a growing trend in clients asking her for pre-nup and wealth planning advice in the early stages of their relationships. ‘It’s not just, as it traditionally was, younger people being pressured into it by their parents,’ she says. ‘It’s young people with their own volition coming in and saying, “What about this scenario? What about that scenario? And what can I do to protect myself?”‘
This, of course, has affected her practice: ‘Traditionally we would call ourselves divorce lawyers. I think what we do is no longer just divorces, it’s much more varied and forward-looking. It’s not looking at the past and how to fix it, it’s more “What do we do about the future?”‘
When she can’t reach a settlement — like in the case of a high-profile client recently where a ‘significant level of acrimony and distrust’ were involved — Lesson can be a ‘tough’ lawyer who is ‘not afraid of litigation’, two peers told us.
Sounds stressful? Maybe that’s why she tries to take a holiday ‘as much as I possibly can’ and ‘as far away as I can possibly go’.