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Ayesha Vardag: From pregnant magic circle trainee to £845-an-hour Queen of Divorce

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High-flying family lawyer reflects on incredible life in candid interview

Ayesha Vardag — image credit: Vardags

Ayesha Vardag is one of the world’s most renowned divorce lawyers. The high-flying ‘diva of divorce’ opens up about her remarkable career in an interview with The Sunday Times Magazine, in which she reveals, among other things, that she completed her training contract whilst pregnant.

Cambridge law grad Vardag secured a training contract with elite magic circle player Linklaters. Still finding her feet at the firm, Vardag reveals how she gave birth to her first child during her training contract and later “fell in love with her boss”. But, according to the top lawyer, she managed to make things work during the intensive training period by “putting in 12-hour days while her son was with a nanny or at nursery” and only taking five weeks maternity leave.

“I managed to finish my training contract on time. I was the only trainee to have a baby and keep on going full-time in a City firm,” mother-of-six tells the magazine. This, according to Vardag, was somewhat of a rarity:

“I remember someone who was told by her doctor, ‘You can’t possibly have this baby and do your training contract’, and this girl felt she had no choice but to have an abortion, which she was then very upset about subsequently. I just did it, but I had to give up so much for that…”

Vardag decided to turn her back on a successful commercial career. She married her boss and relocated to Moscow in a move driven by his career, where she raised her first-born and by then, a second child. The couple later returned to England and divorced a few years later. It was during this time that she discovered her true calling, divorce law, so she set up her eponymous law firm 13 years ago in a bid to bring City-level quality to family law.

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Elsewhere in the in-depth interview, Vardag recalls the struggle of juggling childcare with launching her own law firm:

“It was incredibly stressful and difficult and I’d work all day, then I’d go out in the evening and try to network for clients. I’d be out until three in the morning, it was exhausting and I was very frazzled, but it was so immensely satisfying.”

Now a leading family practitioner, Vardag (who famously represented German heiress Katrin Radmacher in the Supreme Court case that gave legal status to prenuptial agreements in England and Wales) doesn’t come cheap. In the interview, it is revealed that Vardag bills her clients up to £845 an hour.

Vardag, who has just given birth to a baby boy with long-term partner Stephen Bence, who is also at Vardags, shows no sign of slowing down. “I’m not having any [maternity] leave at all,” she says, “just keep going but in a flexible way, which is generally how I think everybody should approach the world nowadays.”

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75 Comments

ERIKA CISOTTI

Such an inspiration! it just proves that everything is possible!

(36)(41)

Anonymous

Considering her firm was only founded in the last few decades, she seems to have achieved quite the impossible.

(17)(8)

Anonymous

Self publicist of a quite massive ego. Just have a look at her website.

(2)(0)

Anonymous

It must have been so hard having so much money that she could leave her child with a nanny and continue her contract. Such a feat only having 5 weeks off because she could afford to send her kid to a nanny when some mums can’t even afford to have jobs because of the cost of childminders

Everything is possible if you have a shit ton of money, went to Cambridge and as such got a magic circle placement in part because you went to one of the only unis they accept from

(216)(26)

Legally John

If you read the article in the Sunday Times you would see that she came from a poor, single-parent background, won a scholarship to high school and into Cambridge in her own merit. Hardly handed to her on a plate!

(41)(73)

Anonymous

That does not excuse some of the views she has on 5 weeks maternity and getting pregnant on the training contract by her boss, harkens back to the MeToo movement and some of Non disclosure agreements women had to sign.

Question remains: Did she get pregnant by accident when having to do something sexual in return for a TC?

(51)(7)

Anonymous

Actually yeah, if you read other press about her you’d see that she grew up poor raised by a single mother and has won everything good in her life through serious ambition, talent and relentless hard work.

Also it’s an incredible achievement for her to have grown a business from scratch by herself right through a massive recession, and whilst juggling being a single mother with several kids to look after.

Do your research before you slag off a hard-working woman? Jealousy is graceless you know…

(24)(34)

Anonymous

This woman seems like a walking HR nightmare

(125)(6)

Anonymous

Not only did she marry her boss at Linklaters, her current husband is the director of strategy at her current firm!

HR nightmare incarnate indeed.

(91)(4)

Anonymous

“City-level quality to family law”. Family “law” is dross and for intellectually second rate people.

(105)(69)

Anonymous

You’re either very ignorant or a troll, or both.

(28)(39)

Anonymous

No, I’m just far more intelligent than them, and you.

(25)(19)

Anonymous

they*

(5)(6)

Anonymous

She is the epitomy of feminist delusion

(42)(17)

Anonymous

Has anybody ever seen a website more self-aggrandising that hers?

(28)(11)

Anonymous

Not only did she marry her boss at Linklaters, her current husband is also a director of strategy at her current firm!

HR NIGHTMARE

(30)(7)

Anon

All the sexists always come out the woodwork whenever there’s an article about a successful woman. Whatever you may think of the her getting with her boss, it’s pretty admirable that she managed her training contract while pregnant and after giving birth.

(28)(53)

Anonymous

Just as bad about the guy with a 2:2 from Newcastle working at Skadden as co-head of private equity.

A QUARTER OF A CENTURY AGO.

(39)(4)

Anonymous

HAHAHAHAHA this is so true

(3)(1)

Anonymurmur

Is this a joke?

(3)(3)

Anonymous

It’s not a joke check out an article on Legal Cheek concerning Richard Youle of Skadden Arps, in the career section.

Something about a 2:2 being a springboard.

(2)(0)

Anonymous

He also trained at a high street firm in Hull.

This all serves to show that you do not need to be clever or well educated or well trained to be a non-contentious solicitor. This is because you never encounter the law and spend your days cobbling together deals using boilerplate documents.

(34)(4)

Anonymous

What’s your point? Can’t get more contentious than divorce.

(1)(0)

Anonymous

If you read or know anything about this woman, you wouldn’t be commenting positively. She has been in several documentaries about herself. She has a need to tell everyone how wealthy she is and how accomplished. Why else do I know about her place in the city and her pad in Winchester, and how Eton isn’t good enough anymore? I didn’t read the article but did she mention how her husband is a former astrophysicist? Quite.

(57)(11)

Anonymous

Better to remain silent and be thought of as a colossal egotistical braggart, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.

(23)(5)

Anonymous

“I didn’t read the article but did she mention how her husband is a former astrophysicist? Quite.“

No, she didn’t. Maybe you should have read the article.

(12)(21)

Anonymous

The Times article does mention it!

(11)(0)

Anonymous

TOP NOTCH

(0)(0)

Anonymous

She spouts forth enough in the press to realise that she appears to have fallen mightily in love with herself somewhat…

(23)(7)

Anonymous

Self-branded “Britain’s top divorce lawyer”. Ranked band 2 in Legal 500, not mentioned in the Hall of Fame…

(53)(5)

Anonymous

Why would anyone want to be known as the Queen of Divorce?

(18)(4)

Anonymous

There’s a lot of things about her that make you stop and think ‘Why would anyone do that?’

(11)(8)

Anonymous

Words fail me

She sounds like the most appalling person

(9)(2)

Anonymous

Michael Winner was a good deal worse. Birds of a feather though, in many respects.

(1)(0)

Anonymous

Calm down, dear

(1)(0)

Anonymous

Try Facebook

(0)(0)

Anonymous

Family law is very easy.

(19)(8)

SJamieson

We need more examples of incredible female lawyers like this! I bet the people writing these comments are boring old men who are feeling rather threatened, I should imagine. Let us know when you have a 4 page spread in the Sunday Times Magazine lol

(14)(11)

Anonymous

It’s precisely because she continually courts all of this ridiculous ‘Look how amazing I am’ attention that she is being pilloried in the first place!

(16)(4)

Veronica

Of course, if you achieve anything amazing in your life it is only valid if you don’t tell anyone 🙄

(5)(19)

Anonymous

That’s not quite my position, but it is an entertaining caricature of it.

There are hundreds if not thousands of incredible, brilliant lawyers in this country, and many of them are women. I can’t think of a single one of them who spends quite as much time, effort or verbiage trying to impress other people with their accolades as does the talented Miss Vardag.

Interestingly, the degree to which Miss Vardag does this is inversely proportionate to the fuss made/achievements of (just off the top of my head and by way of example) Sasha Wass, Dinah Rose or Liz-Anne Gumbel. Funny that, don’t you think?

(41)(3)

Veronica

Three more successful female lawyers. All of whom deserve to be a lot more celebrated than they already are. What’s your point?

Other female lawyers being successful doesn’t make Ayesha’s achievements any less impressive.

(6)(23)

Anonymous

My point relates not to whatever success she may have had, but to her very public narcissism.

I thought I’d made that clear.

(33)(1)

Anonymous

Hi Ayesha!

(1)(0)

Sandala

Why do people always feel the need to attack successful women? To have founded her own law firm whilst raising her family is pretty impressive.

(13)(35)

Anonymous

Speaking only for myself, it is not because she is successful (not that she is as successful as she would like to have us all believe), but because she spends so much time and energy drawing attention to herself and making grandiose claims about how amazing she is.

Again, speaking only for myself, I have no difficulty at all in celebrating successful women in the law. Women who have actually done something to justify the kind of accolades that Vargag claims for herself, but who are themselves far too modest and have far too much sense to incessantly blow their own trumpets in quite such a shrill way.

(39)(5)

Sandala

So successful women are only allowed to be celebrated if they behave with the appropriate levels of modesty?

Pretty sure that restriction doesn’t apply where successful men are concerned!

(12)(31)

Anonymous

“So successful women are only allowed to be celebrated if they behave with the appropriate levels of modesty?”

Nope. Success should be celebrated on merit, rather than because somebody claims vast amounts of it for themselves and then showers in it publicly.

My aversion to her has nothing to do with her being a woman.

(30)(5)

Sandala

It is possible to be successful, on merit, and also court publicity for it. Talking yourself up in the press doesn’t have to diminish whatever it was you’ve achieved to get yourself in the press to begin with.

(5)(12)

Anonymous

When the impression given over many years is of being utterly devoted to self-promotion/self-aggrandisement, isn’t that enough to justify these sorts of comments? Anybody who does that kind of thing is painting a target on their back, surely. If this article concerned a male blowhard, he would be pilloried mercilessly. Sauce for the goose, etc.

(22)(4)

Sandala

Self promoters tend to be pilloried, whether justified or not. But there is a special level of vitriol reserved for self promoting women.

(10)(26)

Anonymous

Not from me there isn’t.

Anonymous

Oh thats a sexist comment against women.

Anonymous

Yep, all this talk of “shrillness” and “modesty” and praising “quiet” women couldn’t be more stereotypical.

(4)(19)

Anonymous

How many of those ‘modest’ female lawyers founded and run their own firms? Have sole ownership of their firms? None? Exactly. They stay in the shadows of their male bosses. Ayesha has done it all herself. If she needs to get business through press, why not?? Would you be so offended if this was a man?

(8)(23)

Anonymous

“How many of those ‘modest’ female lawyers founded and run their own firms?”

I could name you quite a few, but they quietly get on with doing excellent jobs and would probably not thank me for drawing attention to them on here.

(20)(5)

Nika

Translation: you can’t name one.

If someone was interested in finding law firms founded and run by women, you would be doing those women a disservice by not advertising them.

How do you think law firms get their clients? Telepathy?

(4)(16)

Anonymous

I can name several, but I am not going to for the reason I have given. If you don’t know any, you could always try a Goggle search.

(18)(1)

Anonymous

I love how women like this wind up bitter sexists. Hilarious.

(15)(22)

Anonymous

I love how you’ve reached the conclusion that anybody who disagrees with you, irrespective of their gender, is sexist.

(5)(12)

Anonymous

you are though aren’t you?

(1)(3)

Anonymous

No

(1)(0)

Legaleagle

Long live the queen

(5)(0)

Anonymous

A formidable woman. Anybody who tries to ignore or deny this is clearly just bitter… And conveniently forgetting the publicity that men who are similarly (or less) successful regularly receive without criticism.

(7)(23)

Anon

AV has spoken out about some really important issues recently. Seems to be getting a lot of flak for doing things differently or critiquing the status quo which is in desperate need of a shake-up.

(6)(3)

Anonymous

£845 an hour for practising family law? Honest living?

(18)(3)

Anonymous

“High-flying family lawyer” – a contradiction in terms.

(47)(4)

Amused

Genuinely, who would pay for £845/hour, let alone family law? The only things I would ever even consider being worth that much would be super niche, super specialist and ridiculously complex work, otherwise it might as well be theft.

I think it would also be disingenuous to refer to themselves as “magic circle”, as they do, and why quite frankly there should be the “self-grandiose” comments made above. Just looking quickly at their financials would suggest otherwise that they are anywhere near the term magic circle.

But of course, I am merely hating on someone and their firm because they are a successful female, who I obviously cannot stand to be successful.

A solicitor must act with integrity. There’s marketing, but if you’re truly the best your actions speak for themselves, and its not you has to do the talking on your achievements. I would not suggest Verdags are without integrity, but I would not paint them as the model example, regarding how they view themselves.

(7)(1)

Anonymous

They are plainly not magic circle, as they are not any of Clifford Chance, Freshfields, Slaughter & May or Allen & Overy.

They are, rather, a West End firm specialising in family “law”.

(25)(0)

Anonymous

The magic circle is dead

(4)(0)

Amused

Yes – precisely! Yet they have the gall to refer to themselves as such on their website.

(1)(0)

None of my business...

Workaholism and seemingly abandoning your children to the care of a relative stranger should not be things that are touted as badges of honour.

(12)(2)

Floor cleaner

There’s too much straw on this thread. Guys and gals, please do take the time to actually read what others are saying. Makes my job easier.

(1)(1)

Anonymous

Not £850 an hour. No, *£845* per hour. Such a pleasingly exact amount.

(4)(0)

Incontinent Alan

Nearly as clever as two doctorates Blacker.

(5)(0)

Comments are closed.

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