If success can be measured in column inches – as many law firms think – then Vanessa Lloyd Platt is without doubt the most successful divorce lawyer in the land. In the last few months there have been full page photo-features in both The Sunday Telegraph and the Independent on Sunday, not to mention a double-page splash in The Sun. And then there is her weekly column as the Daily Mail's “Relationship Doctor”, which began last month.
The reason for Lloyd Platt's current profile is her book, Secrets of Relationship Success. In 200 pages, she boils down 22 years of family law experience into both a self-help manual and a treatise on the state of the modern marriage. In short, the lawyer pins the blame for the growing number of broken marriages on her own gender. “Women took the message of feminism and went too far,” says Lloyd Platt. “Women have gone so far that they're emasculating men to the extent that they're going off and being unhappy and women are ending up on their own.”
Lloyd Platt is expounding on the failings of the women's movement from the offices of Lloyd Platt & Company, based in a modest business centre in North London. “We may be based in Finchley,” she says, “but in fact we're a City firm – and what we can offer is parking.”
Certainly, the offices do not have the glitzy trappings of her City-based competitors, but she is “anti-marble” on the grounds that it keeps costs down for clients. The location is crucial because the firm is close to the West End and around the corner from Highbury and Hampstead, where many of her media and showbusiness clients live. Her clients are typically wealthy and include celebrities such as Anne Diamond and Lady Buck. It is their experiences that form the background for the book and provide the real-life case studies.
Her views have provoked amusement, anger and recognition in roughly equal measures. In one of the harshest reviews, columnist Colette Douglas Home dubbed her the “divorce lawyer from hell”. The journalist snappily summed up the case for the prosecution by claiming that her guide to being a good wife “could have been drawn up by the Taliban”.
The review prompts Lloyd Platt to let out a hearty guffaw. She can laugh at herself but – have no doubts – she is deadly serious. She says it is a book with a “social message”. Misery in the family is contributing to the rising number of male suicides as well as decimating the country's finances. “Men regard our behaviour as totally overbearing and unacceptable and we have to be told,” she pronounces. “They can't tell us because that would be sexist, and so it had to be a woman who had to start the ball rolling.”
But surely men are just as much to blame as their partners when a relationship goes wrong? Apparently not. According to the lawyer, women are responsible for “the majority of distress” in failing relationships. To illustrate her point she has invented two archetypes, dragon woman and Colditz man. The former is “aggressive, volatile, hard and distant” and she creates her counterpart – the man who will do anything to escape.
Dragons are subdivided into categories, including “the drones”, who are working women. Lloyd Platt confesses to revealing “hysterical dragon drone” tendencies herself. She elaborates: “It's where you say yes to everything that anybody asks of you, and then you can't do it all and so you come home and take it out on the family.” Apparently, the secret to relationship success is for women to metamorphose into “www.women” – warm, welcoming and wise.
The husbands get off lightly. “I tend to be more forgiving of men, only because I think they've had a rough ride and I want to balance it out,” she says. But she adds that most are “little boys grown up”. It will come as little surprise, then, that she has a deep aversion to political correctness. “It's a disease that makes Foot-and-Mouth look tame,” she says. “I believe that there should be equality of pay, but I'm totally against PCness.”
For example, today she is fuming at a City trader who won £70,000 in an out-of-court settlement after she dropped her sexual discrimination claim. She was told by a male executive to wear “short, tight skirts” and asked by another to strip and give him a massage. “Absolutely absurd” is Lloyd Platt's verdict. “Women should be absolutely delighted when men say 'show us your legs' in a funny way.”
She adds: “When I came into the law 25 years ago, there weren't any women in it, and my first job was putting the bets on the horses for my boss and buying his cigars. I didn't fall down into a dead faint like they would today.” Instead of hauling him before an industrial tribunal, the young lawyer learnt the name of every cigar and all about gambling.
Lloyd began her career in licensing law and switched to matrimonial when her boss – who sounds like a real charmer – suggested she should on the grounds that she was “a girl”.
Her forthright views have obviously found an audience, and the book has shifted 9,000 copies since January; but they have not endeared her to some of her colleagues in the law. “She's not exactly… how should I put this… regarded as a heavyweight,” says one divorce lawyer. Another puts it more bluntly: “She talks a lot of crap.”
But Lloyd Platt does not care about criticism from her peers. When the book came out, she reports that some of her peers “got very up themselves”. She puts on a comedy accent and recounts being berated by a pompous lawyer on one occasion. “I almost felt like saying 'Get a life',” she says.
Last month, Lloyd Platt was appointed “relationship doctor” for the Daily Mail. She declares herself at home with the paper's chosen role for her as “the voice of middle England” and its pro-family line. “My client base is middle-England and so I have no problems there.”
As well as being a legal agony aunt, Lloyd Platt is also an outspoken commentator on law reform. She recently delivered a ferocious attack on the Government's track record for Vive, the new divorce magazine. Her conclusion was that New Labour's lack of action was “bordering on the criminal”.
She reckons that ministers are “terrified of their own shadows” and incapable of dealing with contentious issues such as the Child Support Agency. Her view is that they have seen the Tories torn apart over their Back to Basics campaign and are scared to appear pro-family in case any of their own skeletons are forced out into the public eye.
Despite all this extracurricular activity, Lloyd Platt reckons that she will remain a lawyer. “Basically, I'm a divorce lawyer and I love doing it,” she declares. “Sometimes I want to come home and strangle the cat but, taking tips from my own book, I let my husband and family come first.” n