Interested in financial disputes, but not the corporate brouhaha? Then this specialist family law set might offer the best of both worlds.
The family jewels
They say that blood is thicker than water. But guess what – so's yoghurt. So when the blood-ties that bind come undone, clients flock to 1 Hare Court, one of the UK's leading family law sets. Matrimonial finance is this set's forte. Junior juniors may do “20% childcare cases,” estimates senior clerk Steve McCrone, while for the rest of the set “it's about 90% financial remedy cases.” Anyone who hasn't considered family law before this point, listen up: “Family law isn’t an island.” Rather, “it pulls in other areas like trusts, tax and company law with cases that are never a slam dunk because there's lots of judicial discretion. That means you have to be a really good advocate!” There's a good crop of international work too. With a fair few members cross-jurisdictionally qualified, there's been an influx of instructions from Hong Kong, the Cayman Islands and Gibraltar.
"... the amounts of money and the high-profile names involved.”
Closer to home, pupils gushed that “the work is always exciting because of the amounts of money and the high-profile names involved.” In the past, 1 Hare Court has worked on the divorces of Boris Berezovsky, Paul McCartney and Ray Parlour.
One thrilling recent case saw Martin Pointer QC act for Walid Juffali (then chairman of one of Saudi Arabia's largest companies) in a huge divorce case brought by his ex-wife Christina Estrada, which saw her secure a £53 million cash settlement after Juffali had taken a second wife and divorced Estrada under Islamic law – without telling her. All assets accounted for, the total payout reached £75 million. This makes the settlement the largest needs award to be handed down by an English court. Juffali died shortly after the judgment became legally binding – if the case hadn't been brought forward to accommodate his illness and he'd died before, Estrada wouldn't have received a penny.
Members have also recently been active on Wyatt v Vince and the Sharland case – look them up, both were precedent-setting. With cases like these on the roster, it's no wonder that Chambers UK awards top marks to the set's matrimonial finance practice.
Children of the revolution
Three four-month stints with three different supervisors see pupils through the year. The first six is all about “paddling in the shallow end and getting to grips with everything,” a pupil noted. As the bulk of the work is finance-related, the complexity of the matters means that pupils normally work on “asset schedules and chronologies first and then move on to draft orders, witness statements and disclosure documents towards the end of the first six.”Others joked that “you spend a lot of time using Excel. I had no idea how to use it – maybe brush up on that before coming here.”
“I'm not in court as much as my friends at the Criminal Bar, but a lot more than people in say, shipping."
The second six lets pupils progress to taking on their own instructions: eg making interim applications in contested divorces, dealing with legal aid domestic violence claims or “running low-value financial remedy cases from the preliminary hearing to the FDR.” For such cases pupils “prep all the documents for court," including skeleton arguments and draft direction orders. “Your supervisors are very good at letting you prioritise your own work over theirs,” we were told.
One pupil did noted: “I was a bit slow to actually get on my feet at first, but that's just the nature of financial remedies work – it ebbs and flows.” And they were keen to point out that “now my work has really picked up.” Steve McCrone comments: “The complexity of the work means we have to be aware of what pupils can manage, but I'm keen for them to get as much exposure to court as possible.” A baby junior gave us an insight into what their practice looks like: “I'm not in court as much as my friends at the Criminal Bar, but a lot more than people in say, shipping. A family practice gives you the chance to be on your feet about three to four times a week."
Throughout the year, pupils have to complete three advocacy exercises. The first is in front of the pupillage committee, just before the second six starts. “It mirrors the type of court work you’re about to do,” explains pupillage committee member Thomas Harvey. One recent exercise was an application for an urgent non-molestation order.
Pupils' performance on this exercise doesn't count towards the tenancy decision – the exercise is there only for feedback. The second and third assessments, however, do. The second, which might be something like an FDR, is done in front of the tenancy committee and we were told: “It's something of a dry run before the final exercise which forms part of the tenancy interview.” Pupils advised that “if you take on feedback from your second exercise, then you should be okay.” The other half of the tenancy interviews consists of questions on “pretty much any financial remedies case from the last 18 months.” Of the two 2016/17 pupils one was offered tenancy in the summer of 2017.
Applications should be made directly to chambers with a CV and cover letter. Pupils advised “keeping it short and sweet – just a couple pages of your neatest handwriting." Handwriting? Yes, handwriting. "I think hand-writing the cover letter is a good thing because it makes you think about what you're saying a lot more than if you're sitting at a computer,” a pupil told us.
The lucky 20 who make it to the first-round interview face “a pretty informal ten-minute discussion about your CV and why you want to practise family law,” explains Thomas Harvey. Rather than asking narrow competency-based questions, interviewers prefer to let interviewees speak freely about themselves. All the same, bear in mind the competencies the set is looking for –“as well as being good academically, you have to relate to many different types of people, whether that’s a Russian oligarch or a victim of domestic violence,” says Harvey.
"Do a mini and don't rely on any pre-judged reasons you might have for not picking this field.”
The second round sees about eight people prepare a problem question a week before the final interview. After this, hopefuls attend chambers-wide drinks, which Harvey tells us “is so that candidates can get a sense of the people they may be about to choose to spend 30 to 40 years working with.” A pupil commented: “I'm not going to pretend that I didn’t treat it as an interview, but eventually I warmed to the evening – and I'm pretty sure they'd made their decision by that point anyway.”
Harvey tells us that candidates “shouldn't rule out family law, especially before giving it a go. Do a mini and don't rely on any pre-judged reasons you might have for not picking this field.” Family law is known for attracting more women than other corners of the Bar and we note that 40% of 1 Hare Court's barristers are female.
When it comes to university backgrounds, we note that two-thirds of the set's 12 most junior members were undergrads at Oxbridge, while the others went to Durham, LSE and Bristol. But there's no snootiness here. “No one thinks that they're better than anyone else," a pupil told us, "and co-pupils don't compete head to head with each other.”
A respectable social scene helps build camaraderie throughout the rest of the set. The mention of chambers cricket made one of our sources chuckle: “They try to draft me every year but I'm awful, so I always politely decline!” We were also told that “there are always drinks going on. Members are really good at taking pupils along to events with solicitors and I've made some really good friends that way.”
80% to 90% of work at this family set relates to financial divorce settlements.
1 Hare Court
1 Hare Court,
- No of silks 12
- No of juniors 30
- No of pupils 2 (current)
- Contact Sarah Hardwicke Chambers Administrator
- Method of Application Curriculum Vitae with handwritten covering letter
- Pupillages (pa) Two 12-month pupillages
- Tenancies offered 7 in the last 5 years
Type of work undertaken
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Bar, 2017
- Family: Matrimonial Finance (Band 1)