Tell Citywealth’s readers about your role.
Since 2012 I have been the Head of Chambers at 4PB, a leading set of more than 84 specialist family law barristers. We have recently moved from The Temple to new modern premises at St Martin’s Court, just by St Paul’s Cathedral. Being head must be one of the best jobs one could ask for in legal London mainly because of the people I work with. The barristers and solicitors are exceptional and the best in the business. The clerks and staff at 4PB are extraordinary. They are professional, loyal, dedicated, and supportive. I could not do my job without them.
As for my own practice, for over 30 years I have specialised in complex and serious children cases; in particular those involving intractable child arrangements, high conflict disputes and relocations. Most of my clients now are high profile, international and HNW.
I am also an arbitrator and have been a Deputy High Court Judge for over 10 years. Sitting as a judge in either of these roles is clearly satisfying in itself but it also allows me as a barrister to advise my clients with that additional experience and insight.
This is the second year in a row that you have been shortlisted for ‘Barrister of the Year’ at the Magic Circle Awards. What does it mean to you to have been nominated for this award?
It is obviously a great honour to be nominated once let alone twice, especially when I see the breadth of talent of the others who have been nominated. I am also very pleased to see my colleague Samantha Woodham, who is also at 4PB, up for the same award for her work in establishing the ground breaking ‘Divorce Surgery.’
What are the most important skills and personal qualities for a barrister specialised in Family and Matrimonial?
Obviously being a family lawyer is different to being like almost any other type of lawyer. One is dealing with the most personal issues of people’s lives and acting for them when they are normally in some state of crisis. Therefore as well as being able to give sound legal advice and having all the skills a barrister has to have, one has to have a range of other soft skills including a high degree of emotional intelligence. I try to listen to the client’s story, each one is unique and deserving of time and understanding. I aim to be empathetic but also keep that important objective distance. It then also helps have stamina and, when appropriate, a sense of humour.
Are your clients behaving differently in the present era?
One of the most obvious changes in the recent era is that clients demand immediate responses and this is a trend that has grown since the pandemic, with most of us being more glued to our screens than ever before. One can understand why a client paying for a professional legal service would have such a demand but to satisfy it the risk is a serious negative impact on the lawyer’s wellbeing. A balance needs to be struck and all involved need to show more understanding. The reality is that very few emails are that urgent! I remember and I appreciate this is showing my age when all requests to counsel for advice were in paper form with the standard deadline being 28 days and the urgent one being 7 days!
Best and worst parts of your job.
The best part of my job as a barrister is winning – am I allowed to say that? By which I mean achieving the result my client wants where that is also the right result, in a borderline case where one has made a real difference. That is the sweet spot for me and is still very rewarding when it happens.
The worst part of the job is having to manage a client who is deeply upset by the nature of the case and knowing that ultimately as a barrister we do not have the skill set to help.
What is the most valuable piece of advice you have been given?
I can’t limit this to one piece so I will mention the following:
Preparation, preparation, preparation. Always know the case better than the judge and then little can go wrong.
Dress rehearsals – don’t waste nervous energy outside court arguing your case, your opponent is unlikely to change their position and all you will have done is given them your arguments.
Stop talking so much and listen more – you learn more by listening than talking.
Emails – save any contentious ones to drafts before sending or use the timer function to delay sending.
Integrity – don’t try and copy someone’s else style and method – work out what your own is and stick to that.
Alex Verdan is a member of our Leaders List.