Divorce Consultant and Entrepreneur – Katie Alexiou – S3E8

This week on the Legally Speaking Podcast, Powered by KC Partners, our host Rob Hanna was joined by Katie Alexiou. Katie is the Co-Founder and Director of LEVEL, a top-ranked lending boutique firm with excellent in house family law expertise, where they strive to make the route to financing legal costs the least stressful part of a challenging process! Katie is also a Divorce Consultant at Katie Alexiou Divorce Consultancy.

Katie and Rob discuss many things including:

  • Her route into the law
  • How relationships are coping with more working from home
  • Common causes of Divorce & how this can be avoided
  • The current state of Divorce in light of COVID-19
  • What a divorce lawyer & consultant does
  • Tips to help prevent divorce
  • How to help fund your divorce
  • A couple of her fun facts!


[0:00:00.0] Rob Hanna: Welcome to the Legally Speaking Podcast powered by Kissoon Carr. I’m your host, Rob Hannah. Today, I’m delighted to be joined by the highly impressive Katie Alexiou. Katie is the co-founder and director of Level a top ranked lending boutique firm, with excellent in-house family law expertise, where they strive to make the bridge to financing legal cost, the least stressful part of a very challenging process. Katie is also a divorce consultant at Katie Alexiou Divorce Consultancy. So, a very big welcome Katie.

[0:00:33.7] Katie Alexiou: Hi, Thank you.

[0:00:35.7] Rob Hanna: Great to have you on the show, before we go through your sort of illustrious career and everything you’ve achieved, we must start with our opening question on the podcast, which is on the scale of one to 10, 10 being very real. How real would you rate the reality series “Suits” in terms of how real it would be on the scale of one to 10?

[0:00:55.7] Katie Alexiou: Well, I have to confess I’ve never actually watched Suits, but I’m sure it will be in the same way that The Split which we had on BBC one recently will contain huge exaggerations of the legal process in order to make it a brilliant drama to watch. So, I can’t comment on Suits, but I would say, The Split would be generous seven out of 10, because although there are loads of an inaccuracies, they did really try to get some legal facts in there and you can’t blame them for needing to insert a bit of drama to get people watching.

[0:01:28.3] Rob Hanna: Yeah, I love that. I love that how you manage link that in as well, that’s awesome. No one has managed to link that with a good comparison to not having watched it, so well done.

[0:01:39.1] Katie Alexiou: Thank you.

[0:01:40.1] Rob Hanna: So, we must start at the beginning as we do with most of our listeners. So, tell us a bit about your own sort of family background and upbringing?

[0:01:47.9] Katie Alexiou: Oh, well I had a very traditional and happy upbringing in Surrey, with my parents and my brother we are half Greek separate, on my dad’s side and have a huge Greek separate family living nearby in England. So, I grew up, you know, really in the heart of a big loving, happy family. My parents been married 47 years this week, or we’ve just all been together. My parents, my brother and my husband and children, so we’re very family-oriented people.

[0:02:15.4] Rob Hanna: Wow. 47 years, that’s a hell of an achievement.

[0:02:18.7] Katie Alexiou: It’s impressive.

[0:02:21.1] Rob Hanna: So, you graduated from Oxford. Was that always a personal ambition of yours?

[0:02:26.6] Katie Alexiou: Well, actually it was, it became a very predictable ambition in a way because I actually told a family friend when I was six years old, quite [blindly] and slightly ostentatiously that I was going to go to Oxford university. And then I was going to become a divorce lawyer like my dad, who was a very preeminent divorce lawyer until he retired just three years ago at the age of 75. So, having made background statements a few years later, graduated from Oxford and had a place at law school and had a bit of a brief rebellion against how inevitable it all seemed and ended up spending a year as a party planner in London.

[0:03:02.4] Rob Hanna: Yeah. So, tell us more about that story because you have quite an interesting route into law. As you say, you mentioned party planner, tell us more about that?

[0:03:10.3] Katie Alexiou: Everything was geared up for me to go to law school and I was speaking to a friend who I was at university with, I actually happened to throw a lot of parties in those days. And he said to me, you’d be a great party planner. And I just thought, yeah, I’m going to do that, that sounds much more fun than law, definitely going to have just loads of parties. And it’s all going to be brilliant fun. And actually, it was fun, but it made me realize that I wanted to do something that helped people in a more meaningful way and perhaps use my brain a little bit more. So, actually it was quite a good year to spend because it made me realize that the decision to do law was the right one for me and suited me much better than the party planning career would have done.

[0:03:47.1] Rob Hanna: And so you went on and you practice as a family solicitor at the time, at one of the country’s number one, for family law Manches, obviously Pennington’s Manches of course, in London where you represented people dealing with all aspects of divorce. So, I guess from those experiences, in your opinion, what do you think are the main qualities of a great family lawyer?

[0:04:11.2] Katie Alexiou: Well, I don’t want to seem trite because this question is asked a lot, so I don’t want to come up with something too predictable, but obviously compassion is at the top of the list and responsiveness is also pretty high up because every client really feels in their mind that they’re your only client. And when they need an answer to a question or when they’re in deep distress and turmoil and they contact you, they will remain in that state of distress turmoil until you’re able to communicate with them and so, it’s really important to manage your caseload so that you’re able to actually help every client as the need arises. And number three would be for me, keeping an eye on fairness of outcomes for both parties and the whole family. So, when I deal with clients, it’s always about coming up with something that’s fair, not coming up with something that’s the best deal, and it’s going to leave the other party high and dry or in any way compromised.

So, I like to strategize and get what I can, get the best for my client, but always making sure that everyone’s looked after and that they themselves keep their mind set on being fair and that they remember the things that their partner did for them during the marriage and the things that were shared during the marriage and that they exit the marriage in a fair and decent way that enables them to continue that relationship in some form or another particularly if there are children to co-parent going forward, because ultimately what you want for them is for them to be able to exist in the same room when their children go through all those milestones, like their school plays and their graduations and their wedding days. And I do like to reassure my clients that it is achievable to stay friends after a divorce. So, I think just generally an overview of fairness and kindness is important.

[0:05:50.8] Rob Hanna: No, no, I love that. It’s a really nice way of putting it because as you said, it’s a distressing time. So I think if a family lawyer, you know, sort of taking that responsibility to try and help manage that so it’s as fair as you say, as it ends, I really love that kind of approach and agree with you wholeheartedly. And so, you have the entrepreneurial flair as well, so why did you decide to set up your own consultancy business and then tell us more about it?

[0:06:15.9] Katie Alexiou: Well, I’m really glad you asked that question actually, because I stopped practicing when I had my first daughter in 2007 and I was really slightly stuck because I spent all these years gaining all my experience and expertise and family law, but at the time, and I think things are much more flexible 13 years on, but at the time the job didn’t really exist part-time and my husband was working extremely long hours in the city and I felt like I wanted at least one parent to be at home, bringing up our two daughters. And so, I was really not sure what I was going to do and I felt it was so unfair for the mums, who can’t do one job or the other well, and so what, and I was really floundering. What I worked out was that throughout my time of being at home with the children, I was helping lots of friends and family, friends with their divorces and separations.

And so actually I decided that I was just going to continue doing that on a commercial basis. And I wasn’t sure whether it would have legs or not, but I set it up in 2014 and it’s gone from strength to strength. So actually, there’s a huge need for someone less expensive than a solicitor in a firm that has some, not all of the expertise to help people go through a divorce process. And as I said, with my point earlier, keeping an eye on fairness and trying to stay out of court and away from expensive fees. So, it was really just something borne out of what I was already doing and a desire not to go back into private practice and spend time away from my children.

[0:07:44.5] Rob Hanna: Yeah. And how do you find running a consultant business cause obviously it is quite, quite stressful you know, not everything always goes to plan, but how have you found it?

[0:07:52.8] Katie Alexiou: I think the most difficult thing is having sensible boundaries in place. And I have to confess, I’m not very good at that. As I said earlier on when my clients need me, they need me now! And so, there’s no one I can, you know, I can’t say speak to my colleague or I’m away from my desk today because they just need to get an answer or some reassurance as soon as possible. So, that’s the hardest thing is, is some days I’m really, really stretched because it’s only me, but I make it work so far, it’s been manageable. A lot of people ask me how I can cope with everyone else’s distress and all the terrible things I hear. And actually, the truth is although it sounds quite cold and non-emotional is it doesn’t actually affect me. I feel for my clients, but I’m able to remain detached because I think I’m really aware of the fact that when they come to me, they’re at a very low ebb and when they leave, they are lighter and they are armed with knowledge and a strategy and they’re reassured. And so, it always feels positive when I’m speaking to my clients, it’s a slightly different matter when friends or family are going through divorce, because then I definitely do feel much more weighed down by their upset. But generally speaking, I can keep myself quite separate.

[0:09:08.1] Rob Hanna: No, I understand that, but that’s great that you’re able to do that. You are also the co-founder and director of Level. So, tell us more about them and what your role and responsibilities there are?

[0:09:20.1] Katie Alexiou: Level; something that happened to me as I entered my forties, it was completely unexpected, but a brilliant turn of events. So, my dad introduced me to my now business partner, George Williamson, who he had met in the context of his work in divorce. My dad’s work in divorce. When we were introduced, we immediately clicked and started conversations about setting up a company to make loans to people going through divorce. And so we worked very hard for a year and a half or so and launched in 2017, the company has gone from strength to strength. It’s a small boutique firm, we’ve got an eleven strong team and we have, as you said at the outset, when you introduced me, we’ve just recently been ranked as a top tier lender, the only one in matrimonial litigation funding in Chambers and Partners, which is a huge accolades and privilege and, really is amazing recognition for achieving everything that we set out to achieve.

So, in terms of the practicalities, what we do is we lend money to people who are going through a divorce, but don’t have access to liquid funds to pay their legal fees up front. So, what we will do assuming they meet our criteria is ring-fence a sum of money for them to draw down on, to pay their legal fees and that loan is then repaid with rolled up interest at the end of the loan term when they’ve received their settlement. So they’ll pay it, pay us back out of their divorce settlement and it’s sometimes because there’s a financially weaker spouse who can’t access any of the family money, but will stands to get a decent chunk by way of settlement.

Or it’s sometimes just because there isn’t the liquidity, because all the assets are tied up in property or in businesses and until a court orders, something to be done with those assets, no one knows where the liquidity is going to come from. So, in both those instances we can lend and really that was with a view to levelling the playing field for family law, hence the name because we are giving both parties, access to justice and, or the chance to access decent legal advice and not just one party being able to screw the other party over by having the top lawyers representing them and then are other half unable to have anybody represent them at all.

[0:11:30.6] Rob Hanna: Yeah. That’s really interesting. You know, we are in a world now where we are sort of influenced heavily by the media and you offer guidance and advice from all aspects of divorce and family breakup. So, you know, the million-dollar question, probably all our listeners want to know is have you been busier than ever as a result of COVID-19 or not?

[0:11:51.9] Katie Alexiou: I really hate to say yes, I have, because it’s just, it sounds so predictable, but I genuinely have never been busier than over the last few months. I had a few clients just before everything went a bit mad when we kind of knew it was coming, who I advised just to sit tight because they have no means of exiting the family home. And I thought just dropping that bombshell or pushing that button just as we entered lockdown would be pretty tough to live with for the next few weeks. But I have had a huge influx of new clients and people who’ve just reached the end of their tether. And who now that we’re sort of coming out of lockdown are looking to get divorced, I think it’s just that, you know, a global crisis makes you think about life and death and focuses your mind, I think, on where you want to be.

And I think that’s led to a few people concluding that now’s the time, but I also think that a lot of marriages succeed because the parties don’t spend very much time together and that’s how it works. And when you’re thrown together 24/7 and you’re working in the same room and all that sort of thing, I think it can lead to huge stress and tention. So unfortunately, yes, it’s very much on the rise in my experience.

[0:13:01.7] Rob Hanna: Yeah. And I guess as, as you know, a lot of people probably listening and that’s not a huge surprise, but I guess from your experience, what are some of the common causes of divorce and what tips would you give to others for it hopefully not to get to that stage, because I guess you probably, there is an element of sort of counselling to a degree, is there any sort of common trends or things and what you would say to that?

[0:13:23.3] Katie Alexiou: Yeah, and I think, as anyone involved in giving divorce advice, you have quite a good insight into the pitfalls and, where you can go wrong in marriage. And I think the main one is taking your partner for granted or not noticing your partner and not making enough effort, which then can have the knock-on effect of somebody else giving that partner, the attention that they need from you, and then an affair might take place and then the marriage combusts. So, I think the main advice I would give to someone who wants to have a happy and successful marriage is to appreciate each other and be kind, I mean, I keep saying coming back to kindness, but it’s quite simple to be kind, it’s nice to be kind. And it goes a long way to having a happy marriage. So, I think no marriage is without conflict. I don’t think it’s actually healthy to have no conflict at all but being able to resolve things sensibly and reasonably and keep laughing and keep being kind is vital.

[0:14:17.7] Rob Hanna: No, and I love the way you’ve put that. And you know, what I always sort of got told as well as around attention, you know, made sure, you know, you put your attention in the areas that really matter the most because ultimately those will be the people that will be picking up the pieces and anything that goes wrong, but it’s also easy to fall into that trap. Isn’t it? I think with people with busy careers or trying their best to, you know, do you think money and people sort of greed, you know, striving to work as much as they can for the best of their family, is that where people maybe lose sight of what matters, do you see that as a sort of common?

[0:14:48.7] Katie Alexiou: Yeah, I do see that. And actually, I have a client at the moment his marriage is ending. He doesn’t want it to end and he has been working every hour to provide for his family and he lost sight of what he was actually working for. And he’s so full of regret now that his marriage has ended, that he didn’t put more attention into the relationship itself and into the family itself because during the time that he’s been focused on work, thinking he was doing the best for his family, the marriage has actually just fallen to pieces. And so, I do think you’ve got to keep your eye on what’s important we work so that we can have a nice life. And so, it’s not all about work it’s actually about a balance. And it’s so easy to save the best of you for everybody other than your partner, but really important not to do that.

[0:15:33.8] Rob Hanna: Absolutely. And you are, you know, you mentioned you’re a wife, you’re a mother, you’ve experienced a demanding career. How do you think those experiences have helped you with advising clients over the years?

[0:15:44.1] Katie Alexiou: Well, I think the only thing I haven’t done is got divorced and I think that clients really liked, really clicked, really liked to speak to someone who has experience of something that they’re going through themselves. So, actually I’d like to have a chat with my clients on quite an honest and candid basis and I’ll go, ‘Oh God yeah, bloody men, you know, that happens to me too. And this is how I handle it’. So, I think, any shared experience is really helpful in the work that I do. You know, I speak to women who’ve never worked, or I speak to people who have really high-flying careers. And I think it helps to have a foot in both of those camps at one point or another.

[0:16:16.3] Rob Hanna: Yeah, no, I agree. I think it’s great that you’ve sort of worn so many hats, so you can kind of be as open and transparent as possible and everyone experiences divorce differently. And I know the service you offer is tailored to the individuals, each of them, which is great, perhaps for people less familiar, you know, it’s not just divorce. So, do you want to give some examples of the various stages of the divorce process, which clients approach you about and just talk a bit more about other options?

[0:16:44.4] Katie Alexiou: Yeah. So I see people, honestly, at every stage, I see some people who are just thinking about it and they want to know what their options are, what their life would look like afterwards, how the process works. I see people who’ve made the decision and they want to get the ball rolling. So, they’re doing their divorce petition or need help communicating to the other party that they have decided to go down that route. I see people who need to be put in touch with mediators or counsellors or other experts. I often have clients sent to me by solicitors when they have a task such as their financial disclosure, that they want to come to me to get that quite administrative part done. Or they need some handholding, or I see people whose case is really well established. They might even have been to a hearing or two, but they are, they need to change solicitors, or they decided to be a litigant in person, but with me in the background.

So, and as you said, it’s not just divorce and finance. Sometimes it’s purely about the children and I’ve had some, some really difficult cases. You might have heard of parental alienation as a bit of a buzzword these days of one parent turning the child against the other parents, to the extent that they’re no longer a part of their life. And I have really low tolerance for that, unless there’s a good reason that the child is not safe with that other parties. So, I’m quite firm with any of my clients, if I see signs of that happening. But really any aspect, and again, it doesn’t have to be divorced. It can be separation; it doesn’t have to be husbands and wives. It could be husbands and husbands and wives and wives that can be in so many shapes and forms, every day is different. And every case is, you know, they’re huge blocks of similarity in every case, but every case is slightly different, and some cases are very different.

[0:18:23.7] Rob Hanna: And perhaps people less familiar between the clear-cut difference between divorce and separation. What’s the kind of legal definition if you like of separation versus divorce?

[0:18:34.4] Katie Alexiou: Well, separation would be for if you’re an unmarried couple, the rules are very different. So, marriage protects people financially quite a lot, and it can be quite difficult if someone comes to me and says, I mean I had a client earlier this year, who, for various reasons, everything was in the partner’s name. And she was really exposed because although they have children and he had obligations towards his children, he didn’t have a financial obligation towards her per se.

So, she had to try and establish an interest in the family home. It’s very difficult, it’s much harder when you’re not married. And so, I take a deep breath and I have unmarried couples coming to me because it’s just slightly more technical and slightly harder to establish an interest in assets.

[0:19:19.4] Rob Hanna: Yeah. And I guess then moving on you from your time, obviously in the law, you’ve built up links with lots of some local and London-based solicitors, barristers, mediators, and counsellors. How has that benefited you in your sort of core service offerings?

[0:19:36.1] Katie Alexiou: Oh, well, it’s brilliant. If a client comes to me and the time comes that they need a heavyweight solicitor or a barrister, or they need some other expert advice, it’s brilliant to be able to have that knowledge that enables me to match someone with the right advisor. So, it’s really important actually, to be able to immediately come up with some names for them to contact and reach out to if it comes to that point.

[0:19:59.5] Rob Hanna: Yeah, that’s good. And it’s great that you have that sort of, that you’ve built up over time. And my sources tell me that I believe you have an interesting secret… fun facts. So…

[0:20:11.3] Katie Alexiou: Oh my God! Who told you that?

[0:20:12.5] Rob Hanna: That would be telling, so if I’m not putting you on the spot too much, spit it out.

[0:20:20.4] Katie Alexiou: Oh well there are two. If it’s the person that I’m thinking of, who knows these kind of facts… one of them is very quick, but it’s that I was born with an extra finger on my left hand.

[0:20:28.3] Rob Hanna: Oh wow!

[0:20:28.9] Katie Alexiou: So it would have been burned as a witch I think, in the old days… and the other one, which is slightly more winded and much more embarrassing is that I had a secret teenage crush on Paul Gascoyne, Gazza, but quite a serious crush to the extent that I had planned out our wedding day in great detail. I sourced property particulars from country life of the sort of house that we might live in and I even had swatches of material that I would use for my wedding dress. And sadly, this book was discovered by my dad and he kept it for the specific purpose of reading extracts from it on my wedding day in front of every single person that I know. So, actually it’s not a secret amongst my friends and family that I have this terribly misjudged crush as a young girl.

[0:21:12.0] Rob Hanna: I love that. Well, you know, he wasn’t a half bad player, and he did his bit for England.

[0:21:17.4] Katie Alexiou: Yeah. Okay. From that, definitely not such a good husband though.

[0:21:20.1] Rob Hanna: Yeah, he could’ve done with some of your professional advice that’s for sure. And so I guess as we look to wrap up a couple of sort of final questions from me, what tips would you give to your younger self having sort of been in the legal profession, still connected to the legal profession, entrepreneur, obviously sort of balancing everything. Are there any things you look back on and would perhaps offer to your younger self?

[0:21:41.7] Katie Alexiou: Honestly, I’m really happy with where I am now and how things have worked out for me. I feel really lucky, so nothing too fundamental actually, but I change in terms of how I’ve done things, but I guess that if I had my time at university, again, I might take advantage more of everything that was on offer because, you know, we had the Oxford union, fantastic lecturers, loads of sports get involved with, and I think I was a bit too focused on the college bar and my friends and various boyfriends to take full advantage of that. So, that is probably the only thing that I would change having said that that was really good fun. So, I’m not sure that I really would change it.

[0:22:18.6] Rob Hanna: Obviously it can’t all be work. So, you know, what do you do for downtime, given you’re so busy? You know, what are some of your personal hobbies or interests?

[0:22:25.8] Katie Alexiou: Well, as I said, I’m a very family orientated person. So, I spend a lot of time with my family. We all live quite nearby, so I’m really lucky to have them there and any spare second socializing and seeing as much as I can of my friends. I’m lucky to have a really great network of people around me and have a good balance of work and fun.

[0:22:46.2] Rob Hanna: Great stuff. Well, if people have been inspired or want to know more about Level or your consulting business, or generally, perhaps even just want some advice, you know, if people want to get in touch about anything we’ve discussed today, what’s the best way or platform to do that? Do you wanna give a shout out to any of your relevant website links or immediate?

[0:23:06.4] Katie Alexiou: Level for litigation funding, that is the and my own website for my consultancy is just

[0:23:17.5] Rob Hanna: Right. Well, thanks a million Katie. It’s been a real pleasure having you on, obviously it’s been a bit of a taboo topic throughout all of COVID with regards to the whole D word, shall we say? So, it’s been great to have you on and shed some more light and reality of the situation, but wishing you, Level, your consulting business and future pursuit lots of continued success, but for now over and out.

[0:23:42.0] Katie Alexiou: Thank You Rob.

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