They’re the Fearsome Thirteen: Britain’s top 13 women litigators, ranging from divorce divas to white collar crime fighters and defenders. These are women who have fought their way through a male dominated profession to show they can not only foot it with the best – but they ARE the best.
Check the list of the “Fearsome Thirteen”, in no particular order .
1. Ayesha Vardag
Ayesha Vardag is a divorce lawyer who is variously described as the “divorce lawyer to billionaires” (The Times). She is also known as the “Diva of Divorce”.
The founder of Ayesha Vardag Solicitors she has been described as the top divorce lawyer in Britain by any number of media outlets, once involved in a divorce lawsuit described “the most toxic” divorce battle in Britain. She has been claimed as one of the key people turning London into the divorce capital of the world.
Ayesha Vardag entered divorce law from a blue-chip law firm with the aim of bringing top quality legal advice to the City. She rose to fame for winning the landmark Supreme Court case of German £100m heiress Katrin Radmacher, and in the process changing the law on prenuptial agreements in the UK .
Vardags is the pre-eminent City family law firm, representing an array of celebrity and business clients among others with 45 staffers and a growing reputation built on the feisty and successful business of a woman admired by many, feared by many more and ultimately a self-made legal diva.
2. Shami Chakrabarti
Chakrabarti (“Shami”) is a leading voice in civil liberties advocacy and while she may not be a “litigator” in the usual sense she is one of the best known faces in Britain when it comes to charity work and civil liberties.
She was the directory of Liberty, the civil right organisation until taking up a role as Chancellor of the University of Essex.
Educated at the LSE, she is someone who has engendered both admiration and irritation in her message to defend human rights. Whatever the feeling, she has engendered controversy and projects power showing her repeated wins over the government – over 90-day and then 45-day detention without trial; internment in Belmarsh prison; stop and search without suspicion and more.
She says roles such as hers require the development of a rhino-thick skin.
As The Guardian wrote: ” If I were an actress I could say, ‘Darling, I never read the reviews I’m doing my art’. But when you’re a campaigner, you’re actually trying to change things – you’re trying to change people’s minds and persuade them.”
One of her greatest concerns are the government’s powers for mass surveillance, powers that could be furthered enabled by the investigatory powers bill. “We wouldn’t let the state impose identity cards, but these,” she holds up her phone, “these we buy.”
Chakrabarti has been the director of Liberty, the National Council for Civil Liberties, for 12 years, before resigning.
3. Marina Wheeler
We shouldn’t describe Marina Wheeler QC as Mrs Boris Johnson because that would deprecate her considerable influence as a lawyer, author and columnist. A specialist in public law and human rights, she has even been described (by The Indpendent) as “the brains behind Boris Johnson”.
The daughter of one of Brtitain’s most famous television journalists, Sir Charles Wheeler, she met Boris Johnson when she was in Brussels as a 9 year old wearing”Impeach Nixon” badge.
She has courageously (or foolishly) survived her husband’s two known affairs with journalists but continues to act as a leading barrister in her own right, without any “help” from Boris, thank you very much
4. Karyl Nairn
Karyl Nairn doesn’t look the tough litigator with her red beehive hair and feminine outfits, belying her top lawyer status. However the Australian-born head of Skadden Arps’ global litigation and arbitration division is exactly those things.
She is best known for her successful defence of Chelsea Football Club owner Roman Abramovich, who was accused of blackmail and contractual breaches by the late Russian business oligarch Boris Berezovsky. In a case billed as the largest private litigation in the world – Abramovich was facing a damages claim of more than £3.6 billion ($6.4 billion) – Berezovsky was found to be an “inherently unreliable” witness, had his claims dismissed and was ordered to pay all legal costs.
Nairn also represented Israeli oil trader Rony Fuchs, who was sensationally imprisoned in Georgia, in the Caucasus region, in 2010 during a $US100 million ($107 million) commercial dispute with the government. Fuchs was later pardoned.
Nairn has also been assisting South Sudan against a claim from the national oil company of its northern neighbour, Sudan, over the ownership of significant oil field interests. And whatever the outcome, she’ll defend her clients with style. Her wicked red beehive and feminine outfits make her a natural standout in the traditionally masculine legal profession.
“I think it’s important for women to see that you don’t need to pretend to be a man to be able to succeed in a world that has historically been developed by men,” says Nairn, who is briefly back in Australia for work and to speak at legal events covering issues such as ethical standards in international arbitration.
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5. Sasha Waas
Sasha Wass, the daughter of Sir Douglas Wass, who was a British civil servant is the most highly respected practitioner at the criminal bar. She has practiced the Criminal Bar for 38 years – she was made Criminal Silk of the year in 2015.
Sasha Wass rose to greater fame when she won the case against Rolf Harris, a children’s entertainer who was convicted of child abuse. This highly competent defender and the prosecutor has more to her CV than Rolf Harris.
She has both defended and prosecuted cases involving everything from fraud to sexual misconduct, with a particular interest in cases where scientific and medical evidence is disputed, like allegations of ‘Shaken Baby Syndrome’ and unexplained deaths in infants.
Apart from the Rolf Harris trial, she prosecuted rogue trader Kweku Adoboli, responsible for largest British banking fraud $2.3bn; the ex-Nigerian State Governor, James Ibori and associates; serial killer, Rosemary West accused of 10 murders and financier, Roger Levitt.
In 2014, the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Mr. Philip Hammond, appointed Sasha Wass QC to lead the St Helena Child Abuse Inquiry involving the British Overseas Territory of St Helena relating to child abuse, police corruption, and incompetence.
In 2018, Ms. Wass fought and won a legal action against the Mail on Sunday for an article it published in 2016 about her.
She recently appeared in a 10 part documentary series, on historic death penalty cases, Murder Mystery and My Family from 2018 – 2019 which was broadcasted on BBC.
6. Fiona Shackleton
Baroness Shackleton of Belgravia – a well-deserved title, one she doubtlessly relishes, also earned the nickname, ‘Steel Magnolia’ known for her arctic explorer forebear, she can be an ice lady when it comes to divorce work.
Lady Fiona Shackleton can be an ice lady when it comes to divorce work, she has many high-profile clients, from the members of the Royal Family to various celebrities. Some of her cases also attracted a lot of attention, such as during Sir Paul McCartney divorce when Heather Mills poured a jug of water over her head.
Nigella Lawson also took advice from the celebrity lawyer Fiona Shackleton in her divorce case. However, her numerous high profile and wealthy clients are happy to pay the fees for one of Britain’s foremost divorce lawyers.
Fiona Shackleton also handled Britain’s biggest ever divorce case after a Russian Oligarch’s wife claimed a third of his 15 billion-pound fortune. Recently, she represented Princess Haya Bint e Hussein’s case, one of six wives of Ruler of Dubai.
7. Helen Ward
‘Once at a case, she is a tigress who never sleeps’ – Helen ward is considered the most important divorce lawyer of the generation. She represented Guy Ritchie against Madonna, FFS, and she’s passionate about her work – ‘I am hands-on, I do not waft into client meetings having just been briefed.’
She also represented luminaries such as Andrew Lloyd Webber, Bernie Ecclestone, Paloma Picasso, and Countess Spencer. She tries to keep her clients out of the spotlight. She is known for giving her cases attention to detail. She has earned respect not only of her clients but also of her associates.
She confirmed her place as a world leader in family and divorce law matters in 2007 after she successfully secured the largest ever court divorce settlement for Beverley Charman, the ex-wife of insurance millionaire John Charman.
Chambers High Net Worth 2019 has ranked Helen, describing her as “beyond compare”.
8. Claire Montgomery
Clare Montgomery described as ‘the most formidable member of the bar’ – she is a highly respected specialist in criminal, regulatory and fraud law, perhaps best known for her work on legally and factually complex cases. She was made the Queen’s Counsel in 1996.
For the past decade, Clare has specialized in dealing with the most demanding and difficult legal cases. She has featured in the starred category of QC’s recommended for crime and fraud for the whole of that period.
Formerly a member of the Attorney General’s Panel, Clare has also been concerned in a wide range of public law and due process cases both for and against the Government.
She was named Crime Silk of the Year in 2013 in the inaugural Legal 500 awards and was Crime Silk of the Year in the 2005 and 2011 Chambers & Partners Bar Awards.
She has twice been nominated as The Lawyer’s barrister of the year. She is also called to appear before the Dubai International Financial Centre.
Clare represents a range of prosecuting authorities, such as the FCA and SFO as well as acting for private clients and corporations. In 2018 Clare appeared in the UKSC in relation to a challenge to election laws.
In 2019, there was a successful appeal led by Clare Montgomery on behalf of Donald Tsang who was the former Chief Executive of HKSAR in the court of Hong Kong. Prime Minister of Mauritius, Pravind Jugnauth’s case was also handled by her when he was cleared of conflict of interest allegations by the Privy Council.
9. Sandra Davis
Sandra is the one who doesn’t accept defeat at all. Named in the top ten family lawyers in the Spear’s Indices. Davis is the heart of mega-firm Mishcon de Reya, has been practicing there for over 30 years. She is described as, the fantastic lawyer who does her utmost for the clients.
Her career’s prime highlights have included cases of Princess Diana, Jerry Hall, Tamara Melon, and Thierry Henry as well as involvement in leading cases on third-party financing of financial settlements and jurisdiction.
She makes sure that children’s voices are heard as she has dealt with a majority of children’s cases also. The big cases keep on coming at her – she managed to achieve the largest divorce settlement of 337 pound million that was ever awarded.
10. Amal Clooney
Do we need to say anything about Amal Clooney? The wife of the movie star – one of the top lawyers in the UK in the fields of international human rights and international criminal law. She was born in Beirut and was graduated from Oxford and NY University School of Law. She is also said to be a Human Rights Expert.
She worked for Sullivan & Cromwell before lecturing in human rights law and became involved in notable cases, including work on the recognition of Armenian genocide alongside famed QC Geoffrey Robinson.
More recently she has done battle against Cherie Blair representing former Maldives’ former president, Mohamed Nasheed in respect of his arbitrary detention.
She was appointed to the UK Attorney General’s Public International Law C Panel (2014-2019), a small panel of experts who will be called upon, in the courts of England and Wales to represent the government of the UK in cases involving public international law.
Her marriage to George Clooney has seen her elevated to grade-A celebrity status also, but it has enhanced her profile as a leading civil rights lawyer who can generate a profile in the fusty courts as well as the red carpet events where she is endlessly photographed.
11. Grace Ononiwu
Here is a woman who through a lot of hard work, drive and determination has become a top lawyer and is now Chief Crown Prosecutor for the West Midlands Crown Prosecution Service.
Born of Nigeria Guildford College of Law and brought up in London’s East End she found herself in stark contrast to her predominately white and privately educated contemporaries.
Starting as a defense lawyer in 1991 joined the CPS and rose quickly through the ranks including a spell as Deputy Crown Prosecutor in London which was followed by her appointment as Chief Crown Prosecutor for Northampton shire in April 2005, making her the first African-Caribbean to be appointed to that position in the history of the CPS.
She was then appointed Chief Crown Prosecutor for West Midlands Crown Prosecution Service last summer, making her one of the leading figures in the country’s criminal justice system today.
Yet her dream almost died when she failed all her O-Levels after being cruelly told by a teacher to forget her legal ambitions.
“I was given 100 reasons why I couldn’t do what I wanted to do and not one why I could. That really knocked me because my parents were quite strict and believed very much in authority and education. So when I was told that, I thought it must be true. I didn’t have a silver spoon in my mouth, I didn’t go to the right school,’’ she says. “When you look at the legal profession it is very traditional. I was not part of the establishment.
12. Siobhan Grey
Siobhan Grey is currently a member of the Criminal Bar Association and the Kalisher Trust and one of Britain’s top criminal lawyers.
Siobhan Grey has specialized as a criminal defense lawyer for twenty five years with a particular focus on serious fraud, white-collar crime and confiscation proceedings, acting alone or as a leading junior, and regularly prosecuted by silks.
In the context of white-collar crime, she has defended in cases brought by the Financial Conduct Authority, Serious Fraud Office and HM Revenue and Customs. She has immense experience in the cases of money laundering as well.
Amongst her most recent cases was the acquittal of her client, on all counts, in a case alleging £multi-million fraudulent property transactions and money laundering to accounts in the Cayman Islands.
She more recently conducted an appeal against conviction in relation to the biggest pension fraud since the Maxwell case, she acted alone and was prosecuted by a Silk instructed by the SFO
Many times she has been instructed as an appellate advocate in the Court of Appeal Criminal Division.
An award-winning human rights female barrister has taken to Twitter in protest after her LinkedIn picture became the subject of sexist comments from a male lawyer. Charlotte has been known as the feminine barrister.
Charlotte represents cases of gender-based violence particularly female genital mutilation.
Charlotte was pronounced winner of the legal debate of 2018 arguing quotas for women is the only solution to gender equality in the workplace.
She is currently working on a manuscript for an academic publisher on FGM, law, and policy in the UK. Charlotte also regularly writes for a newspaper and regularly speaks on the TV as well – makes speeches focused on gender discriminatory legislation.