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Editorial

The market for family law services remains buoyant. London is still a financial hub and firms report an increase in instructions for pre- and post-nuptial agreements. Allied with this is an increasing number of cases on the issue of spousal maintenance especially challenging the concept of maintenance for life. Another noticeable trend is the marked rise in cases where a client wishes to move a child to elsewhere in the UK or overseas. Firms report that these ‘leave to remove cases’ have become increasingly complex and litigious. Changes to both public and private children and family law work as a result of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders (LASPO) Act 2012 is impacting a number of law firms, with several stating that, as a consequence of these changes, there has been a decrease in the number of firms carrying out publicly funded work and a reduction in the size of teams at some of the more established family law practices.

There has been a steady increase in the demand for non-adversarial options to resolve family conflicts, including mediation and solicitor-to-solicitor negotiations. This option is perceived to be a more private and cost-effective method of resolving disputes that arise in the aftermath of divorce and separation. It is also compulsory for all parties that commence family law proceedings to first undergo a mediation information assessment to decide if mediation could be a more suitable way of resolving issues. The increased emphasis on mediation is reflected in the fact that in 2014 the Family Mediation Council approved a new framework for professional standards and regulation. It has also established a register of family mediators that can be searched by the public. The new framework was gradually introduced during 2015.

FIRMS IN THE SPOTLIGHT

Hughes Fowler Carruthers

This leading niche family law practice is based in Chancery Lane in central London and specialises in all aspects of matrimonial and family law.

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Court of Protection is an expanding area, with a number of law firms attempting to diversify into this niche practice area. Firms have noticed a surge on the contentious side as there are now more deputyship applications. Irwin Mitchell, Thomson Snell & Passmore and Withers LLP excel in this area.

Wealth management and preservation coupled with the need for secrecy surrounding offshore trusts and sheltering assets in offshore jurisdictions are very much in the public eye. The top private client firms are also looking at reputational issues for their high-net-worth clients, who want to ensure that their investment structures are legitimate and are not prone to investigation or unwanted scrutiny.

Charitable organisations were thrust into a negative spotlight during 2015, following the high-profile collapse of Kids Company amid allegations of mismanagement, in addition to adverse media reports concerning over-zealous fundraising and data protection concerns. Demand for a new regulatory landscape gained momentum, and the Charities (Protection and Social Investment) Act 2016 received Royal Assent in March 2016, which increases the Charity Commission’s powers of investigation and remedy.

The appetite for investment in art and antiquities continues to escalate against a backdrop of poor-performing financial markets and global uncertainty in real estate. Alongside this are calls for greater international regulation, with the World Economic Forum highlighting the potential pitfalls of the art market: money laundering, tax evasion, insider-dealing and price manipulation are all risks. Two firms stand out for their commitment to the sector and expertise in the field: Farrer & Co and Mishcon de Reya LLP.

With rural land and large estates typically owned by private individuals, family generations or large trusts, this area of legal practice remains the domain of private client law teams as opposed to commercial real estate practices. The sheer scale of some estates demands an eclectic mix of legal specialism: property law, planning, environmental, tax and succession, exploitation of sporting or mineral rights, asset protection and the management of valuable art collections are some examples of the matters typically handled by law firms in this area. Boodle Hatfield LLP, Farrer & Co, Forsters LLP and Withers LLP all provide a holistic service to landed estates.

For wealthy individuals, London is still an excellent place to invest in. Firms such as Berwin Leighton Paisner LLP, Charles Russell Speechlys LLP, Farrer & Co, Macfarlanes LLP, Maurice Turnor Gardner LLP, Taylor Wessing LLP and Withers LLP have all-round domestic and international expertise in personal tax, trusts and probate.

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