Charlie Bell – senior associate at Vardags – on why it chose to open in Manchester
Two years ago, Vardags, already established as the biggest presence in high net worth family law in England, made the strategic decision to move into the Manchester market. Then it was just a matter of finding the right offices and making it happen. We’ve taken our time, we’ve planned it carefully, and we’ve arrived.
Manchester was an obvious choice for Vardags. The city is booming right now and international money is flowing in. It’s the other capital of England.
We’re now a couple of months into a ten-year starter lease at Grade II listed Ship Canal House on King Street, in the heart of the city centre. We love our building – statues of Poseidon and classical horses outside our windows, Gateley, Vivienne Westwood and the Gotham Hotel round the corner – surrounded by history. It’s perfect.
We are also in the middle of recruiting half a dozen or so Manchester-based lawyers from what is proving to be a fiercely talented pool, with a view to growing to 15 plus. I’m heading up the office until we get everyone settled in and integrated with the other offices, in conjunction with our managing director, Catherine Thomas, and the plan is then to devolve to entirely Manchester talent. We believe Manchester people want Manchester lawyers, but they also want the best available in the country, because they need to win.
Now we’ve opened our doors, they can have both. And business is booming. We have the highest level legal expertise, a long track record of winning the toughest cases and securing many millions for our clients and a blue chip portfolio of Manchester-based clients. We’re excited to be bringing that work back to Manchester where it belongs, rather than funneling it off to London, and making it easier for a new raft of Manchester clients to have the very best family law representation in the country, in cases where it really matters.
If people do break up, which happens, then we are in the business of trying to get the best possible result for our clients, to secure their financial futures and their relationships with their children. We don’t believe people should be forced to live together unhappily. We’re therefore there to help when things go wrong.
But we’re not in the business of breaking people up. Some of the cases we’re proudest of are when we’ve brokered a reconciliation.
At Vardags our job is to serve high net worth individuals and their families - we go where they are. We found we had an increasing number of clients based in Manchester and the region, from all sectors – inherited wealth sports and entrepreneurs. Those clients were willing to come to London to see us, but we felt it would be so much better to come to them. We’re all about service, and bringing our world-class service to our clients’ doorsteps seemed like a real boost to our offering and one that our clients deserved.
With Manchester placed at the heart of the Northern Powerhouse plans, we feel it’s the perfect core from which to develop our practice through the north west of England. It’s a big market, full of energy, with things very much on the up. Put simply, outside London, Manchester is the other economic hub of England and is rising up as a sophisticated and buzzing mid-sized European city very quickly.
Following the BBC’s move to Salford Quays, more people have woken up to the exceptional quality of life the region provides. Unlike London, you can be in the countryside soon after leaving the centre of Manchester by train, bus, car or tram. The sports sector, cultural scene and professional services industries are all thriving too. It’s just a great place to be.
Ayesha founded Vardags when she was a divorced mother of three, in a spare room in an Islington townhouse, a decade ago. Since then she has been hailed ‘Britain’s top divorce lawyer’ and has earned the nickname ‘Diva of Divorce’. She was elected Woman of the Year in this year’s NatWest Everywoman awards. She won the biggest case in the history of family law, changing the law on pre-nups in England, and she and her team act for and against members of royal families, heirs and heiresses, business tycoons, sports stars, celebrities and professionals.
Ayesha’s greatest achievement, though, is perhaps growing the company into the biggest high net worth family law firm presence in London, with a team of around 60, 7,000 square feet of penthouse offices overlooking St Paul’s Cathedral in the City of London, a 60% plus compound annual growth rate, regional offices in Cambridge and Winchester as well as Manchester and many, if not most, of the leading cases of the day.
We’ve spent years helping people find a future that is both brighter and happier, for them and their families. And that’s what we look forward to doing now in Manchester.