‘Often the highlights are the cases you’ve settled,’ says Frances Hughes, who, despite her reputation as one of the best litigators in the field, strongly disapproves of ‘headbanger lawyers’ who are too keen to push things towards court.
‘Thank goodness that they’re the minority,’ she tells Spear’s. ‘Most lawyers get a sense of satisfaction from sorting things out. We don’t want clients to finish the process feeling like the walking wounded and spend the rest of their lives complaining about their awful divorce at cocktail parties.’
Hughes, co-founder of Hughes Fowler Carruthers, has practised family law for 38 years and attracts the biggest cases. She is currently preparing for a ‘huge international case’, which is not yet in the public sphere, but involves up to £20 billion in assets. ‘There’s been a rise in children’s work in big-money cases,’ she says. ‘A couple of years ago, fathers were fine with seeing their children every other weekend.
It’s good that that’s changed, but litigation itself is terrible for children.’ Hughes says that the UK’s high level of judicial discretion is ‘a good thing on the whole as it mostly favours women, who are often more financially vulnerable’ – but it can also create uncertainty. ‘If people knew exactly where they stood, they would litigate less and mediation would be more successful.
I strongly believe that if there is any sensible way things can be settled, they should settle.’ Outside work, Hughes is a lover of the arts, and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.