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Dominic Goodall interviews Simon Bruce  


Simon is the ideal mentor, brimming with nuggets of information, facts and humorous anecdotes. His love for pro bono work is infectious and it is the clear theme running through his career.

Simon’s Career

Simon’s father was an Anglican priest and had great empathy with other people. He believes that anything he has done in life that is good, in some way derives from his father. In the beginning, family law seemed like a good fit because it involved working closely with other people and helping them in the best way that you can. He told me that he had not regretted one second of it.

He is now a partner at the formidable Dawson Cornwell, but for the majority of his life and career, he was at Farrers, another famous name in the field. Simon told me that he was privileged to be a cousin of the Farrer family and had always earmarked it as the firm he wanted to join, and one day head up its family law team. The move to Dawson Cornwell was always a natural step in his career progression because the firm had started Resolution and had embodied all that is good in family law, especially in terms of putting children first. Simon wants to find amicable solutions and excellence in every part of his work, and this translates to his pro bono work, where he finds himself blessed to be part of a firm which has so much respect for it.


Simon is a solicitor but he is also a mediator. Simon told me that clients are so precious, that they should have access to every means of a calm and peaceful resolution; he has been privileged to work with superb mediators and he could not think of a case where mediation would not have assisted. It is integral to family law and he espouses it to all of his clients. One of his greatest dreams is to bring mediation into the pro bono movement and he has worked to bring it into his family law clinics.

Why is family law so prevalent?

One clear theme that all family law practitioners are aware of is that so many people do resort to litigation to sort out their family law issues. I asked Simon whether we were too adversarial as a society, whether court was seen as the default option, or whether our legal system is too complex to navigate otherwise. Simon outlined that we are where we are because family law was born out of litigation. John Cornwell, of Dawson Cornwell, whom Simon described as a beacon of light, had an insight that family law should be dealt with by abundant kindness. Kindness, Simon says, is one of the most important words in the dictionary. Of course, there are always going to be arguments about fairness, principle, entitlement and the children’s best interests. The court will always have to be the backstop. However, it should never be the default option, except in the most egregious of cases.

Pro Bono

Simon has been so heavily involved in pro bono work that I wanted to understand where his interest in it came from. He is a proud Lancastrian and Liverpool FC fan – a fact he mentioned no less than three times in our interview. He also lives in West London and wanted to get involved in a local pro bono clinic. Hammersmith and Fulham Law Clinic had the good sense to ask BPP to provide the law centre function and this was a very happy fit. Simon has enjoyed mentoring the students who provide the legal advice and to encourage their abundant talents and vocations.

I know also that Simon’s great pro bono love is the charity, Dad’s House, and I was keen to hear what made it so special. Simon explained that it was one of the happiest partnerships he had been involved in. A heroic campaigner for the welfare of disadvantaged people was a gentlemen called Billy McGranaghan. Billy set up the charity in 2008. It includes a food bank which gives away 3 tonnes of food every month to those who need it. Billy was looking for a family lawyer at the same time Simon was starting his pro bono career. Its holistic service to the disadvantaged is something quite beautiful. They have helped so many people, mums and dads, mostly in relation to children cases, mostly from London, and mostly in-person. Simon says that it has been wonderful to welcome the students who work with them as an integral part of the team. There is much similarity with the BPP clinic. The students sit around the table, take notes, learn how to take meetings, instruct counsel, attend court and provide support to clients. Simon says that they have been blessed by the students who have worked with them.

Incredibly, they have had cases in front of numerous High Court judges, some of them reported and receiving national attention to their pro bono work. He is very proud to have been nominated and shortlisted in the last two Law Works Pro Bono Awards.

Simon’s cases

One of the most fascinating things about Simon’s career is the number of well-known cases he has worked on. One such case is Radmacher v Granatino, which is ground-breaking when it comes to the way that marital agreements are seen as highly influential in English law. I asked Simon whether there was anything about the case which especially stuck out for him. Simon told me that he had only gotten Katherine Radmacher as a client because of her dog. The little white poodle sat on his shoulder for one and a half hours in their first meeting, nibbling his ear and sleeping on him the whole time, as he tried to keep a straight face and concentrate on advising the most important client he had ever met. At the end of the meeting Katherine told him that the dog had never been that quiet, and so he had the job. Katherine was a very strong person and a wonderful person to work for. The case was one born of its time. It was a proud assertion of autonomy, namely the ability of individuals to love each other and to plan their futures without the spectre of court proceedings blighting their lives. England and Wales are incredibly multicultural and welcoming to people from abroad, and therefore it was utterly appropriate for our law to embrace international norms and marital agreements. With all the press scrutiny too, Simon told me that he enjoyed being the centre of attention and to have a microphone in front of him, to which the whole world was listening. The whole case was a lot of fun.

Another case, which will be familiar to everyone studying for the PGDL, is Prest v Petrodel, the key case concerning piercing the corporate veil. I asked Simon whether he had any idea this case would be so revolutionary. Again, Simon’s narrative seemed to involve some common ground between him as the lawyer, and the client, something I will remember in my own interactions with clients. Yasmin Prest was born in Liverpool, and is a fan of Liverpool FC (no surprise there) and has been to Liverpool games with Simon, so it was no surprise that she decided to instruct Simon as her lawyer. She was a particularly nice and intelligent woman and showed immense bravery in taking her case all the way to the Supreme Court. Simon told me that he still pinches himself when he rereads Lord Sumption’s judgment, and realises that Yasmin’s case brings together international jurisprudence and will teach students and lawyers for decades to come.

Choosing a good barrister

As an aspiring barrister myself, and also fishing for appropriate answers to pupillage interview questions, I wanted to ask Simon some trickier questions that I thought would test his mettle. As a barrister, I would obviously want to be instructed by Simon, so I wondered how he went about choosing a good barrister for his cases. He told me that to start with the obvious, he only works with the best. He looks not only for brilliance but also humanity and humility, as well as someone who can work as part of a team, and most importantly, always put the client first. He told me that he had learned so much from the brilliant barristers he has worked with, with special thanks to Richard Todd KC for all he has done to help his clients.

Navigating family law emotional toll

Family law is a very emotive area of law and can get distressing. In such a long career, I know that Simon has had to deal with disturbing cases, and I wanted to ask how he keeps sane through it all. Simon puts a lot of his success down to his wife, who provides him with affection and balance and protects him, importantly. Simon’s Christian faith is also an inspiration and protection to him, but also knowing that he always does his best.

Simon also writes for the Family Law Journal, where he is the thought leader for family law and writes about how the law should develop.

Life outside law

Like many, one of the benefits of the renewed time at home during the pandemic was that he could get a dog. He tells me about his golden Labrador, Clover, who is his constant companion. When they go for walks beside the Thames, he listens to poetry podcasts and they provide amazing cultural sustenance for him, and are the foundation for which his daily life springs. No conversation was going to end without the third mention of Liverpool FC and he told me that he was a proud member of the 92 Club, visiting the grounds of every single football club in the country. Simon tells me that it gets him around the country, and I can see why he finds it so enjoyable. He has stayed in the only B&B in Mansfield and has travelled the length and breadth of the UK. He also tells me about chess, and he follows the chess column in every magazine that he can get his hands on. He goes on to tell me an anecdote about playing chess with one of his favourite clients, a billionaire, and how they would play on his private jet and whom Simon would beat. I think if one day a film was made about family law, it would be about Simon and the surreal experiences he has enjoyed as part of his career.

Simon is a one of a kind, a hugely generous and knowledgeable first rate family lawyer. He will go down in the history books as the man behind some of our biggest cases, and it was such a pleasure to discuss his work and career. We are richly blessed at BPP to have his insight and mentorship and I know that any student who works with him will benefit hugely from his wisdom and experience.