AYESHA VARDAG

VARDAGS

City
London
Category
Family Lawyers
Company Size
UK
Phone number
020 7788 7232

‘After more than a dozen years working all hours building Vardags, I am now the president of a leading national law firm with an elite team of over 100, including the very best lawyers in England and Wales, and five glorious offices, with our flagship overlooking St Paul’s Cathedral,’ says the indomitable Ayesha Vardag. ‘I provide a strategic overview for all of our major cases and manage the firm’s bright future.’

After reading law at Cambridge, Brussels, the ICJ and the IAEA, Vardag trained and qualified as a commercial lawyer at Linklaters, working on project finance of power stations and diamond mines between London and Moscow. She went on to dual-qualify to the Bar, undertaking pupillage at a leading professional negligence set.  She set up Vardags in 2005 ‘as a one-woman-show initially from the spare room of my Islington townhouse,’ she says. ‘I had relentless drive to get my firm to the top of its field and I won case after leading case, including Radmacher v Granatino, the biggest case in family law history, changing centuries of law to make prenups legally enforceable in England.’

Vardags specialises in HNW, complex and international cases. ‘The firm has a name for taking on some of the most high-profile divorce cases heard in the English courts,’ she says. Vardags works with a whole range of HNW and UHNW clients, including entrepreneurs, sports stars, celebrities, heirs and heiresses as well as industry leading professionals from across the globe, with a large number from the Middle East and Russia, as well as Asia and, increasingly, Africa. ‘Our practice is truly international, driven by London’s place as the divorce capital of the world.’

Despite their disparate origins, all clients want similar things: ‘a world-class level of service from lawyers who will leave no stone unturned to get them a great result and have a unique track record for winning. They want us to secure their future, for themselves and their children, and protect their family, their business and their legacy,’ Vardag explains.

Vardags has continued to flourish, with this year’s growth on track to be in excess of 40 per cent and the same expected next year. 2017 saw the launch of offices in Newcastle and Cambridge, with plans now in place to open a sixth. The firm also launched several new departments , including crime, civil and commercial litigation, employment, and media law. ‘Each of these has exceeded the (very ambitious) hopes we had for them and we are currently looking to expand,’ says Vardag.

Successes in court have been ‘numerous, and though most are confidential, a £64 million divorce settlement for former Miss Malaysia Pauline Chai – ‘one of the largest ever court awards’, was a particular triumph.

‘With the reputation of the family courts of England and Wales, we are increasingly seeing big money cases coming our way from overseas,’ Vardag notes. ‘This offers exciting opportunities to explore the frontiers of our field in high-profile cross-jurisdictional cases but also poses the challenges that come with accounting for assets spread, and sometimes hidden, across multiple countries.’

Family law has become a more dynamic and intellectual, says Vardag. Issues of corporate valuation, and the international aspects of the work, has made family law the focus of hard-hitting, high-value litigation ‘often more like what you find in a global corporate demerger than a family breakdown,’ says Vardag. ‘You can no longer get by without knowing a huge amount of law or without a keen sense for business. Divorce can be a 50% tax on your total net worth, and is almost always the biggest financial transaction you’ll ever undertake. Family law has upped its game, and it was high time.’

Q and A 

In brief, please detail your role and career to date, including any specialisms.

After reading law at Cambridge, Brussels, the ICJ and the IAEA, I trained and qualified as a commercial lawyer at Linklaters, working on project finance of power stations and diamond mines between London and Moscow, then joined the New York firm Weil Gotshal & Manges. Following this I dual-qualified to the Bar, undertaking pupillage at a leading professional negligence set.

After doing some work on own divorce, my solicitor hired me as a specialist family lawyer. In 2005, I set up Vardags as a one-woman-show initially from the spare room of my Islington townhouse. I had relentless drive to get my firm to the top of its field and I won case after leading case, including Radmacher v Granatino, the biggest case in family law history, changing centuries of law to make prenups legally enforceable in England.

After more than a dozen years working all hours building Vardags, I am now the President of a leading national law firm with an elite team of over 100, including the very best lawyers in England and Wales, and five glorious offices, with our flagship overlooking St Paul’s Cathedral. I provide a strategic overview for all of our major cases and manage the firm’s bright future.

 Please outline the services your firm/department provides, including anything it specialises in.

Vardags is a leading, law-making Magic Circle firm, specialising in high net worth, complex and international cases. The firm has a name for taking on some of the most high-profile divorce cases heard in the English courts. Having expanded from a family and private client core to offer criminal defence, and civil and commercial litigation services, Vardags now provides for the full spectrum of high net worth client needs.

Vardags is unique in being able to offer our clients in-house financial forensic expertise and this year we hired another director for this team, in addition to Director of Strategy, Dr Stephen Bence.

Please describe your range of clients (any names you can mention, professional/geographical segments etc). What are they looking for?

Vardags works with a whole range of high and ultra-high-net-worth clients. These include entrepreneurs, sports stars, celebrities, heirs and heiresses as well as industry leading professionals. Our practice is truly international, driven by London’s place as the divorce capital of the world. We have clients from across the globe, with a large number from the Middle East and Russia, as well as Asia and, increasingly, Africa.

Despite their disparate origins, all of our clients want similar things. They want a world-class level of service from lawyers who will leave no stone unturned to get them a great result and have a unique track record for winning. They want us to secure their future, for themselves and their children, and protect their family, their business and their legacy.

How have the last 12 months been? Have there been any highlights or changes? (Please include any details you are happy to share – i.e. standout cases/deals, total transaction and growth figures etc.)

Vardags has continued to flourish, with this year’s growth on track to be in excess of 40% and the same expected next year. In 2017 we launched our offices in Newcastle and Cambridge, and consolidated our leading position in Manchester as well as London by hiring the best divorce lawyers and winning big cases. After these successes, we are now looking for the perfect location to set up a sixth office. We also launched several new departments – crime, civil and commercial litigation, employment, and media law. Each of these has exceeded the (very ambitious) hopes we had for them and we are currently looking to expand.

In April, after four years of litigation, we secured a £64 million divorce settlement for former Miss Malaysia Pauline Chai – one of the largest ever court awards. The majority of our numerous impressive results, however, remain discreetly out of the public eye.

 What are the main challenges and/or opportunities in your sector at the moment? How would you characterise them?

With the reputation of the family courts of England and Wales, we are increasingly seeing big money cases coming our way from overseas. This offers exciting opportunities to explore the frontiers of our field in high-profile cross-jurisdictional cases but also poses the challenges that come with accounting for assets spread, and sometimes hidden, across multiple countries.

 Have you noticed any other interesting trends recently (affecting your industry, or among clients?)

In the last year we have seen the courts continue to marginalise the ‘special contribution’ argument – the idea that the money-maker has done something so exceptional that they deserve a higher asset share. The threshold for special contribution is rising and requires really concrete evidence, as judges endorse the principle of the 50-50 split. The focus then becomes 50% of what?  Smart valuation arguments, the domain of our unique financial forensics team, become key. The courts should look into liquidity issues, key man or minority holding discounts and a generous appraisal of the value brought into the marriage.

At the same time, however, there is a shift away from spousal maintenance as a meal ticket for life, and, subtly, more protection of pre-marital business interests.

Is there anything about your role/industry that you think isn’t well understood, or needs urgent attention and/or change (either within the industry, or from the public/government)?

English law still has no provision for “no-fault” divorce. Clients are often shocked that they have to blame their partner for the breakdown of the marriage, and indeed that a judge can refuse to accept their reasons and trap them in their miserable union. It is an outdated throwback to Victorian morality and needs to be modernised. Vardags set up the Campaign for Family Law Reform which we launched at this year’s Conservative Party Conference, to fight for this much-needed change, and has been lobbying Parliament with some success, the campaign now being picked up by the Times too. We hope the time is ripe to remove this evil from our system.

 

Ayesha Vardag
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