Susan Apthorp’s career in family law was a ‘happy accident’ that started in a busy legal aid practice in Battersea.
Recalling the experience, she tells Spear’s: ‘In the busy waiting rooms, juvenile offenders jostled for space with domestic violence victims. The utter need of the community was palpable, sad and endless – but on an individual basis there were rights to be asserted’. The experience was both humbling and addictive, she recalls, resulting in an ‘insatiable interest in clients, their stories, their businesses and ultimately how best to solve their problems.’
Such beginnings led her to qualify as a solicitor and the personal, client -orientated practice at Sears Tooth in 2008. ‘I was keen for the opportunity to work on the most legally complex cases in my field, and valued the freedom at Sears Tooth – which is rarely available at City firms,’ she says –adding that her work, the people, the finance and underlying psychological twists and turns are always interesting. She says there is invariably ‘some unforeseen or new element in every case’; a unique factor that adds interest and no doubt fuels her extraordinary stamina.
Apthorp’s recent success in Brack v Brack sums up her approach and stamina. She secured a win in the Court of Appeal for a client who was in a ‘seemingly unwinnable’ four-year battle against three prenup spanning three jurisdictions. The trial judge had ruled that the client in question was not entitled to any matrimonial settlement in this jurisdiction, which led to an appeal process that Apthorp took on. The Appeal Court agreed with Apthorp that her client’s sharing claim on divorce ‘survived’ all three prenups. It was a remarkable win after a four-year struggle, with various rejections from judges and barristers along the way.
It was Apthorp’s sheer tenacity and feminist principles – inspired partly by Lady Hale, president of the Supreme Court – that enabled her to carry on with the complex case. ‘Women should not be penalised for having been “persuaded” into signing an unfair agreement, often decades previously,’ she iterates.
Apthorp specialises in complex financial remedy proceedings, Inheritance Act cases, jurisdictional disputes and matters involving children, such as relocation and residence, and provision for the children of unmarried families. She has vast experience of cases with an international element, and regularly advises clients in cross border disputes. Clients include UHNWs from a broad variety of backgrounds and professions. She is renowned for her approachability, a strong work ethic and commercial awareness.