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Margaret Bennett Solicitors can lay claim to being something of an anomaly. In fact, all the lawyers at the family law specialist are women.
The London firm has gone from strength to strength since it was founded in 1990 by Margaret Bennett, the eponymous senior partner and sole member of the equity.
After leaving the now dissolved Malkin Cullis & Sumption, Bennett decided to set up her own niche practice. It was one of the first to specialise solely in family law and was unusual even then, as most family law practices were a constituent part of larger operations.
These days, Bennett is focusing as much on marketing the firm as fee-earning, leaving the way clear for partners Helen Bowns and Helen Pidgeon to look after the day-to-day running of the firm, alongside the final member of the team, Danusia Brzezina.
Although the practice has more than enough to keep it occupied in the UK, international links are strong. With an accreditation to the International Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (IAML), of which Bennett is a founding member, and the International Bar Association (IBA), the firm has often found itself working on cases outside the UK.
“We’ve always had a very strong sense of the importance of international links,” says Pidgeon. “When you’re using the Hague Convention on a case in a foreign country, that can be crucial.” The firm has worked on cases as far afield as Australia, the Middle East and South Asia, and also provides expert advice on UK jurisdiction abroad.
As an independent practice, the firm positions itself not only alongside other niche practices, including Alexiou Fisher Philipps and Hughes Fowler Carruthers, but also the family law teams of major City firms.
“Manches, Withers and Reynolds Porter Chamberlain are all pretty good,” concedes Pidgeon. “But for the big City firms, family law is often a low priority behind corporate, finance, real estate and the like.”
Family law is definitely a growing market, according to Pidgeon, who does not necessarily see this development as a condemnation of modern society.
“People are much more open about things now,” she says. “Society’s definitely moved on.”
Pidgeon is equally convinced that the practice area does not always have to focus on the darker side of domestic life.
“Seeing clients happy and relieved at the end of a case, and ready to move on with their lives, makes it all worthwhile,” she says.
But family law is still a world away from the less personalised world of corporate deals. For every resolved case, there is a splintered family or a missing child – a stark fact of which Pidgeon is all too well aware.
“Watching somebody who once loved someone very much behave towards them in a very different, derogatory way can be distressing,” she admits.