Vardags team says 'we didn't want comfy slippers, we wanted to be law-makers'
When Tynemouth-born law firm boss Ayesha Vardag wanted to expand her London business, she reflected on childhood holidays in Northumberland and turned to the North East for her new office.
Ayesha – dubbed the ‘Queen of Divorce’ for her firm’s many headline-making, high-value settlements – also knew that she needed local people who knew the area and the market and recruited co-directors Nicky Hunter and Susanne Shah to open the office.
Susanne, 37, was born in a house attached to a fire station in Low Fell, Gateshead while 45-year-old Nicky is Newcastle born and bred and part of the Swan Hunter heritage of the area.
“We are accepting clients and have already had quite a few enquiries and are raring to go here,” Nicky told BQ.
“We knew this move to the North East was important to Ayesha for personal reasons, but it also continues the Vardags expansion north, having opened in Manchester last year, and is part of a push to have a fully national presence.
“One of the things Vardags made clear when they were speaking to us is that they didn’t want to just parachute in lawyers from outside the region.”
Susanne said the firm benefited from having a wide range of staff who could relate to the very personal family law issues they were tackling for clients. She said: “The Vardags really do go the extra mile to work around our family lives so we can have a good balance and we have both been able to fit in school runs and parent evenings.
“It definitely helps us relate to the people who come to our offices. Also, my parents have been separated since I was four, so I can try to see it from both sides. I think that is really important to understand these kinds of situation for yourself, rather than just steamroller in and only see the circumstance in the context of your client’s specific case."
It is a similar case for Nicky, who is a separated parent herself and says the insight that provides is “massively important in the solicitor-client relationship”.
Vardags is known for its work with HNW individuals in the South, but there are regional variations and therefore a particular local market to be looked after here.
“The regional needs underpin what we are doing here, particularly when we are looking at dividing up assets,” said Nicky.
“It is very different here in the North East because of the differences in things like housing costs and the cost of living, so ‘need’ here can be very different to ‘need’ in London. There is also a regional variation in judicial outlook, and judges up here are quite well known for being keen to have a clean break between a husband and wife who are separating.”
So far the team in Newcastle is all female (but soon to be disrupted by a September appointment), which brings up the delicate subject of whether women are better at the family side of law than their male counterparts. There are certainly some empathy issues that Nicky and Susanne have already touched on.
“I think it just happens to be that way at the moment and isn’t really intentional,” suggested Nicky.
“But you do find that within family law it tends to have more women working in it, but I don’t really know why that is. Perhaps when young lawyers are starting out it seems a more attractive area to go into.”
The Newcastle area is not short of a legal firm or two, but Vardags remains confident that its reputation and main field of activity with those HNWIs offers great potential.
Now that the office is up and running, there are plans for expansion with floors above them in the Georgian Grey Street building already being renovated to take them well above the eight staff they plan in the very short term.
Vardags – and Ayesha in particular have done their homework well, and Newcastle’s latest legal team is ready for growth.
“We both went for a leap of faith to be part of something bigger – a firm that is not only following the law, but making it as well. It is challenging, but this is our baby and has been since day one", said Susanne.
“We care about it and we are investing in it.”
Investing in a key sector in the North East? I rest my case…