Five-minute interview: Claire Gordon, partner at Farrer & Co
Tell me about your role at Farrer & Co.
Having started as a trainee at Farrer & Co nineteen years ago, I quickly decided on family law and have been helping families through their personal crises since then.I was drawn to the challenges of family law from a young age, and find it just as fascinating now as I did, if not more so. My clients are a mix of professionals, entrepreneurs, celebrities, private equity investors and wealthy families so my days are never dull. As a partner with a busy practice, but also being a working mother, I am also a role model for our associates.
How has the industry changed?
The international nature of our clients seems to have increased exponentially in the last few years. Even those who might previously have been regarded as “onshore‚Äù clients now have assets in multiple jurisdictions. It is commonplace for people to move countries during their relationships, whether for work related reasons or otherwise. This mobility brings different legal considerations to the fore and it often surprises those from abroad that their marital agreements, whilst binding in their own jurisdiction, are not valid in the English courts.
Can you tell us about your clients?
I’ve recently acted for an extremely large US private equity company, advising on the potential ramifications of a multi-billion pound deal where a key individual is getting divorced and am also acting for the wife of a very famous artist putting together a team to cover the property, employment, reputation management, intellectual property and multi-jurisdictional advice required.
What are the main challenges your clients are facing?
Our court system is hugely underfunded and with the withdrawal of legal aid for most family clients it has resulted in long delays and immense pressure on judges. The introduction of arbitration for family law cases in 2012 has provided some relief but can only be used where the parties agree to this route. There is also an ongoing debate between family law judges in financial remedy cases about whether they should be heard in private or in public. Two judges have been vocal in their views. Mr Justice Holman hears his cases in open court, such that the media can report the salacious details which can often be headline grabbing, but intrusive for the participants. Mr Justice Mostyn has been critical of this approach, stating firmly that in his view cases should be heard in private.The ongoing debate is frustrating. A client might feel that they have to settle their case in order to avoid the publicity of a final hearing.Whilst arbitration provides a solution, it can only be used where both parties agree. My strong view is that Mr Justice Mostyn is right and hearings should be in private, not least because of the huge amount of private information involved and the fear that media attention creates.
Tell me about an achievement you are proud of?
A client in her early fifties told me at the start of her divorce proceedings that she felt her life was over.She could see nothing to look forward to and found it impossible to believe that things would get better.Life was to be tolerated rather than lived. Then she called me recently to say she is engaged to be married. I tell all my clients about her and to have faith that they will come out the other side of a divorce. It’s wonderful to play a part in the transition.
What trends do you see?
More clients want pre and post nuptial agreements than ever before, and my view is that this area of work will continue to increase, with pre and post nuptial agreements forming a standard, and important, part of wealth planning in this country.
Clients are also thinking about the potential ramifications of divorce when setting up new ventures and businesses; not just the ramifications of their own divorce but those of their partners or shareholders.
What do you do to unwind?
Spend time with my four year old son. When he is in bed, a glass of red puts the world to rights.