More than two decades in family law has taught Jane McDonagh many lessons, but none more so than the time she helped a close family member through divorce. Realising that she had the right mix of legal skills and empathy made her specialise further in the field. ‘This job has its challenges,’ she tells Spear’s, ‘and there is no substitute for hard work. But it is incredibly rewarding too, to the right kind of person.’
Simons Muirhead & Burton’s head of family is recognised as a lawyer who is at once ‘sensible, unflappable and approachable’ by industry commentators, who have also praised her for ‘holding her own against the top firms’. McDonagh’s practice is financially complex and international and utilises her niche expertise in Sharia law. She adds that her clients need advisers who not only have a solid track record in the family courts, but also have a varied experience of dealing with issues such as cross-cultural assets, family matters, children with special needs or the forensic analysis of business interests.
A recent case for the wife of a politically sensitive HNW resulted in ‘years of hard-hitting litigation’, with assets spread across various jurisdictions worldwide. ‘We achieved an extremely good outcome for our client,’ she reveals. Other highlights include highly contested proceedings involving Ukraine, Egypt, Oman, Iran and Dubai. In fact, 2019 was so busy that the workload doubled, with McDonagh making two successful partner hires.
McDonagh leads her team across the family law spectrum, from assisting with cohabitation and pre-nuptial agreements to forensic disclosures and child abduction cases. She stresses that each client’s circumstance is different, depending on where they are in their relationships. While some consider divorce to be an emotional journey, she’s also familiar with those who ‘want it done with, efficiently and quickly’.
A trend which is increasingly apparent in the family law landscape is the courts’ understanding of the changing lives of women. ‘This isn’t always to their obvious advantage. For example, in the way courts now assume a woman might be able to return to work after a long career break, or even start a new career rather than win maintenance for life,’ she says. ‘But it will always to some extent lag behind changes in societal trends.’
The solicitor stays active away from the office, and is a member of Simons Muirhead & Burton’s Corporate Social Responsibility group. She is also involved with the charity Voices in the Middle (supporting children undergoing a family breakdown), volunteers for Caris Islington (a charity which provides bereavement counselling), and is also a trustee for the charity Copenhagen Youth Project.