Thursday, 6 March 2014

The Muggle and the Magic Circle - The Cult of Personality in Family Law

Today's blog comes from guestblogger Margaret Heathcote.  Follow Margaret on Twitter @Auntie_Ag

The skirmish that recently has been laid bare in the press between Ayesha Vardag and Raymond Tooth has been an unedifying spectacle.  But perhaps it is a sign of the times, and of the cults of celebrity and personality we see in almost every walk of life nowadays.
Mr Tooth is undoubtedly Family Law’s Elder Statesman (whom you would cross at your peril), and Ms Vardag the New Kid on the Block (relatively speaking).  The former’s name lends itself to headline magic, and the latter’s photographs fill column inches.  It cannot be denied that Ms Vardag’s picture pops up with surprising regularity on websites (at least the ones I visit!) throughout the course of the day.  Don’t believe me?  Check it, and you’ll see I’m right!  However, today’s Daily Mail is tomorrow’s chip paper (and all the more transitory online if published online only).  Is there really no such thing as bad publicity, or are we being too old-fashioned about this? 
Those of us who practice matrimonial finance work in central London will all be familiar with the names of the “top divorce lawyers” of the “magic circle” much beloved of the tabloids.  Some of us have had the privilege of working with them.  Most consumers (or clients, as I still like to call them) of our services will be familiar with very few, if any.
Is it (as the press would have us believe is Ms Vardag’s view) simply because these are well-known names that they act for the highest profile (for which read “richest”) clients, or is it because in fact they are highly effective in managing and meeting their clients’ expectations?  How many clients pass through their hands whose names are never known to the public, no matter how rich, glamorous or even deserving they might be?  A goodly number, I would wager.
So, how do these magic-circle fat-cat super-lawyers become so effective (and therefore so well known) I wonder, if it is not simply by having a PR and marketing tem beavering away on their behalf?  I suggest in the following ways.
  1. They work very hard at finding, retaining and serving their clients.  As we all know, the best way to get new clients is to have satisfied former ones.  Some of these super-lawyers even work very hard writing letters, drafting documentation and framing legal argument (others leave such mundane lawyerly matters to retained Counsel).
  2. They are invariably supported by very able but much less visible assistants (who generally work very, very, very hard).
  3. They are (for the most part) discreet – a quality much beloved of the rich and famous (who are more than capable of spilling their own beans for their own ends, thank you very much).
  4. They take every advantage of having easy access to the very best of the Family Bar, and their clients have the resources to pay for them.
Generally speaking then, the only thing left to chance for their clients is the lottery of the Court system.
So I conclude that the beauty (or otherwise) of publicity may be in the eye of the beholder.  For those who want their name in the papers, there are legal advisers who will always oblige.  For those who do not, likewise.  For those who think some of the glamour of the fat-cat lawyer will rub off on their case, or that their case will become magnetically more appealing by virtue of the reputation of their representative, no doubt engaging a famous name is attractive.  Most clients, however, will want their private concerns kept private (pace the moves towards routinely open family court hearings).
As someone once said to me, “For such people, there are such lawyers.” This applies to every client.  To put it another way, horses for courses.

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