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Divorce lawyer Raymond Tooth and his former protégée, the self-proclaimed “diva of divorce” Ayesha Vardag, have reached a settlement in a bitter battle over allegations she attempted to poach his clients.
Tooth, of Sears Tooth, threatened legal action against Vardags after an agency acting for the firm purchased the online term ‘Sears Tooth’ through GoogleAdwords. This meant any online search for the Mayfair firm on Google produced an advert for Vardags in which the Sears Tooth brand appeared.
Vardag launched her firm in 2005 and has built a reputation as being a ‘diva’ divorce lawyer with a string of high profile clients, which included German heiress Katrin Radmacher.
Tooth, meanwhile, is revered by his peers as the ‘Jaws’ of matrimonial lawyers. His clients have included Irina Abramovich, the former wife of Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich.
When he learned of the adwords, Tooth drafted in Taylor Wessing partner Niri Shan and requested that he write to the firm warning that it was a misrepresentation to link Sears Tooth with Vardags.
The letter states: “The misrepresentation causes, and is calculated to cause, substantial damage to our clients. These include diversion of trade from our clients to you, damage to our clients’ reputation, erosion of the goodwill in our clients’ respective names and taking advantage of the deception created that our clients’ services are those offered by you.”
Allegations of trademark infringement were levelled at Vardags, which, Sears Tooths claimed, had the “potential to bring the profession into disrepute”.
Vardag, who spent 10 months in practice at Sears Tooth after she instructed Raymond Tooth to act on her divorce, insisted she was unaware that the agency had purchased the GoogleAdword on her firm’s behalf.
While Vardags did not admit any liability in the dispute, it has agreed to hand over £5,000 on a ‘nuisance basis’. It also stumped up £38,000 in costs for Sears Tooth. Vardag instructed Carter Ruck partner Claire Gill.
Tooth today said the saga represented a “blatant and unconscionable attempt to divert work, internet interest from Sears Tooth to Vardags Solicitors”.
Vardag responded that there had been no deliberate attempt to steal clients from her rival.
“I learned a lot from Ray back in the day, and the last thing I would have wanted to do was to hurt his feelings,” she said. “As a firm of nearly 50, with a recent Supreme Court victory, a 300-400 per cent growth rate and most of the high profile cases of the past year, we have quite enough to keep us busy without Ray’s clients as well.”
Whether that will be the end of the dispute is another matter. Tooth has called on the SRA to clarify its policy on the use of such marketing campaigns, “particularly the use of third party trade marks and brands in keyword advertising”.
One source suggested there was nothing to prevent magic circle firms from buying up their rivals’ GoogleAdwords.