A partner and barrister in the family department at Harbottle & Lewis LLP, Nicholas Westley specialises in complex matrimonial finance work, acting for UHNWs and those in the public eye. He prides himself on always being honest with his clients. ‘Too many of my competitors mislead clients at the outset… my clients rarely achieve less or pay more than I have initially advised.’ The family department at Harbottle & Lewis services the full range of private law family work, including divorce, matrimonial finance, nuptial agreements, private law children disputes and international child abduction, complemented by the in-house tax, property, immigration and reputation management departments.
Previously a barrister at Queen Elizabeth Building, one of the leading chambers for matrimonial finance, Westley has carved himself a niche drafting nuptial agreements and in cases with complicated asset-holding structures or offshore wealth. He acts for a number of people in the public eye, including footballers, TV presenters and pop stars, as well as successful entrepreneurs, business people and UHNWs (and their spouses). ‘I also happily represent… anyone wanting an exemplary service, sophisticated yet practical advice and full transparency – both as regards the likely fees as well as the potential outcomes,’ he says.
An ongoing challenge is dealing with the pressure on the court system, which means hearings are often cancelled with little warning or explanation, wasting clients’ funds as a result. ‘While the financial remedies unit at the central family court has made great strides in improving the service offered to litigants, the service offered by many courts outside of London is little short of disgraceful,’ he says.
A further challenge has been the economic downturn, which has forced lawyers to be more efficient and cut costs. ‘In the 2000s, the economy was such that during the course of a case the capital assets would have appreciated substantially more than the legal costs incurred. In a case involving £20m at the outset then, even if costs of £1m were incurred by the parties, the chances are that each party would still walk away with more than £10m. This is no longer the case.’
The drive for increased transparency by the family courts – which has resulted in increased press attendance at hearing and a greater risk of publicity – is another important development in the system which, says Westley, has had the side-effect of incentivising many individuals into attempting alternative dispute resolution such as private FDRs and arbitration).