Ayesha Vardag, president of Vardags, on the firm, its history & next chapter
A far cry from the glamorous Old Bailey offices we now work from, Vardags began out of the spare bedroom of my Islington home ten years ago. Having cut my teeth in the field (I was hired by my divorce lawyer when going through my own divorce, after using my experience as a finance solicitor to undertake a lot of the groundwork for the case) I took a leap of faith and decided to go it alone.
Family law has traditionally been a very small, established circle and it took some guts to say “I’m new on the scene and I’m serious” as well as to apply City knowhow to the equation and revamp matrimonial law as a more rigorous legal discipline. People were quick to be dismissive at the time but now Vardags is the largest high net worth family law firm in the country and we’ve taken many more leaps of faith along the way.
After securing my first client, a multimillion award in a case that was published in the law reports, business became busier and busier and new successes quickly followed. Our biggest success came with my Supreme Court victory in the 2010 Radmacher case, which changed the law on prenups and made them enforceable in England and Wales. It was a momentous moment for me personally, the small firm – as it then was – that I’d built up from nothing, and for family law. It was also a real blow struck for autonomy in modern marriages and a moment where we really felt we’d tapped into the zeitgeist for change at that time and pushed it through to fruition.
From Radmacher onwards, the firm really took off. The handful of employees who were around for that mammoth case morphed, over the next few years, into a 60-plus workforce, encompassing both lawyers and business professionals. We’ve adopted quite a different human resources strategy for family law, choosing to recruit many lawyers from City backgrounds with sound knowledge of corporate and commercial law and re-train them as matrimonial lawyers. They work alongside newly qualified young stars and senior level lateral hires, combining forces to create a unique team: family lawyers who can really handle the cut and thrust of complex financial conundra.
We continue to take on exciting and ground breaking work. Most recently we have been working on the case of Malaysian beauty queen Pauline Chai, pulling out all the stops for a case that could result in one of the biggest divorce pay-outs in British legal history. The Vardags team won round one in October when we were awarded jurisdiction and forum in the High Court.
It’s been an extraordinary journey so far, and in many ways it seems like it’s just the beginning. At ten years old, the firm is still young and full of ideas for how we will continue to innovate in the future. For a start, I would like to see no-fault divorce become the rule in England, so that the culture of mudslinging that our current fault-based system necessitates can become a thing of the past. I am also a strong advocate for children having continuing relationships with both parents post break-up and of private arbitration for high net worth cases to ensure utmost discretion and to relieve pressure on the clogged-up courts. We will continue to push forward as a firm to make family law work at its very best.
But now the Vardags’ Winchester office is to receive a major boost with Winchester local Olivia Buchan, Vardags’ rising star, appointed to head up the head up the office. We first established our Winchester office in 2012 to bring the quality of a top London family law firm to the provinces. Our client base has grown rapidly to make Winchester a significant part of the firm’s business.
This is going to be a very exciting phase for Vardags in the uniquely gracious city of Winchester. It also marks the next step in Vardags’ mission to bring world class service to the doorsteps of our clients.
Vardags has had a presence in Winchester for the past five years, during which time my family lived there and my children went to its extraordinary schools. As client numbers marched upwards in the Hampshire area we decided it’s worth investing one of our brightest and best to run the Winchester office.
The office is based in the heart of the historic city and offers a fully-fledged family law service, including prenup and postnup agreements, wills, trusts, arbitration, child contact arrangements, domestic violence and divorce.
Olivia Buchan is an Associate at Vardags, dealing with high and ultra-high-net worth matrimonial cases. She grew up in central Winchester and attended St Swithun’s school, and has lived in Winchester for over twenty years. Olivia is a super-bright family lawyer and extremely results-focused. It was important for me to appoint a lawyer with an in-depth local knowledge – from the fabulous schools to the services on offer.
When facing complex, emotional family law issues like divorce, making the journey into London to discuss you private life in big, glass corporate offices can be incredibly stressful. The Winchester office will give residents round the clock access to our international connections, world-renowned reputation and highly specialised staff without leaving the county.
We are also working on expanding our services to the Middle East, with more exciting detail to come in the near future.