Til Laura Wasser do us part - the legal genius behind every major Hollywood power uncoupling
And now Laura Wasser is heading up Team Angelina. Phoebe Luckhurst on the woman who sorts love from litigation
In the noisy hysteria of Hollywood, composure is a virtue. Those who stay calm in the nucleus of the Twitterstorm are worth their weight in gold - or, in real terms, $850 an hour (about £650), which is how much divorce lawyer Laura Wasser charges for her services. Though this week she might have cause to hike her rates.
For Wasser's latest case is perhaps her highest profile: she will be negotiating BrexPitt, the Brangelina divorce. On Tuesday, the TMZ website broke the extraordinary global exclusive and Jolie's entertainment lawyer, Robert Offer, released a brief statement declaring that it was a "decision ... made for the health of the family" and asking for privacy.
Commentators quipped about the death of love, shared unoriginal Jennifer Aniston memes and speculated. Meanwhile, Wasser got to work controlling the story, calmly and meticulously - as she has done many times before.
Wasser (48) is a partner at LA law firm Wasser, Cooperman & Mandles, co-founded by her father, Dennis Wasser, in 1976. She joined in 1995, aged 26, and in the two decades since, she has acquired a reputation as the most coveted divorce lawyer in Hollywood.
On top of her $850-an-hour rates, she also commands a $25,000 retainer (about £19,000) and "rarely represents people who have less than $10m", reports Bloomberg, reverently. She attended Berkeley, an elite college on the West Coast and has a law degree from Loyola Law School.
"For a minute, I worked at the Western Law Center for disability rights, writing up briefs to put safety things in public bathrooms," she told Dame Magazine in 2012. "But then I split up with my husband and I needed to make a living. So I told my dad, 'I don't think it's going to work out'. And he said, 'Great, take care of it.' That was my first case."
After a catalogue of smaller cases, she ended up managing Stevie Wonder's first divorce. "I don't think Wonder would make a move without talking to Laura," her father told Bloomberg in 2015. Her trajectory was established.
Since then, other gilded names who have called on her to navigate pre-nups and settlements include Heidi Klum, Ashton Kutcher, Britney Spears, Mariah Carey, Christina Aguilera and Gwen Stefani. Jolie has employed Wasser before, during her first divorce from actor Billy Bob Thornton in 2003.
The lawyer represented Johnny Depp in his divorce from Amber Heard this year and Jennifer Garner in her split with Ben Affleck last year.
Wasser has represented three Kardashians: Kim (after her two-month marriage to basketball player Kris Humphries), Khloe, and momager Kris Jenner. She did such a good job with Stevie the first time that he employed her for his second divorce.
TMZ nicknames her the "disso queen" (queen of dissolved marriages) and Bloomberg appointed her "Hollywood's complete divorce solution".
She is renowned for being thorough, careful and discreet: apparently, her father only finds out about some of her cases when he sees them appear in the news. Usually, she advises her clients to agree some terms before making statements, to conduct themselves amicably (at least in public) and to ultimately settle, so as to minimise the story.
She has said that she sometimes tells her clients to wait to file their papers so that she can release the limited details of several cases simultaneously, in order to minimise the Press focus on any single separation. She employed this tactic last year, releasing the details of her clients Gwen Stefani and Jennifer Garner's divorces (to Gavin Rossdale and Ben Affleck, respectively) in the same week. For this reason she often releases details in the summer - ideally on a Friday, or before a holiday weekend.
Even so, divorces are charged and emotional, and that's without the forensic focus of the paparazzi. Wasser not only calculates how to handle the furore but is renowned for being straightforward behind closed doors. "You can call Laura and say, 'I'm so angry, blah, blah, blah, blah,' but Laura does not operate in that space," former client and co-founder of Imagine Entertainment, Brian Grazer says. "She will be calm and logical and she'll tell you to think about what you're saying."
"One thing I've learnt after practising family law as long as I have: I do not judge," she told Vanity Fair this month. "Some of the most unlikely relationships have lasted the longest both in and out of Hollywood, and some you would have thought great, fall apart a year later."
Sometimes, her counsel is sought pre-emptively. Last year, Wasser told an interviewer that she had been called in to float the idea of a pre-nup to a then 22-year old Britney Spears, who was preparing to marry boyfriend Kevin Federline. "Young women don't want a pre-nup," she observed. "They're in love. This is fantasy time - 'We're never going to get divorced and I don't want anybody, certainly not some old guy in a suit, telling me how it's going to work out.' So, they bring me in. We have the conversation." When Spears did get divorced, she called on Wasser to manage proceedings.
Though she makes it clear that she is counsel to her clients - not a counsellor. "I tell them a) your therapist costs less than I do b) what do I know? I've got two kids with two different dads, I'm not the person to give you relationship advice."
Nonetheless, many of her celebrity clients will try to share intimate, scurrilous details. "I don't know why it's brought up, but they always bring sex up," Wasser told Vanity Fair. "I'm saying, 'It doesn't matter.' But people want to tell me all about whatever was the matter or weird in their sex lives. I say to them, 'I really don't need to hear it - and I certainly don't need to see it."
Wasser's office is based in her father's firm in LA. Reportedly, it is modern with a glass desk and contemporary fittings. Clients are positioned in green chairs opposite the desk, and tissues are provided. There is a fur rug, a gold hand-grenade and a poster inscribed simply with the words: "The End".
The Brangelina case will, obviously, be complicated, and a subject of extraordinary speculation. "The allegations reported in this case already mean the divorce lawyers will have their work cut out," agrees Sally Pike, partner and head of family at law firm Coffin Mew."
"They will not want the media calling the shots and will want to try and keep the negotiations behind closed doors, particularly when there are six children at the centre of this dispute."
Wasser's not just good: she's the best. And form suggests she'll have no difficulty firefighting on several fronts.
Catherine Dixon (59) is a solicitor advocate for James H Rodgers & Co in Portadown. She is married and has two step-children. She says:
I’ve been practising law for over 38 years now. The first step for a couple is to get their own independent legal advice — each needs to have their own solicitor to avoid conflicts of interest. There are even guidelines the prevent one solicitor from representing both sides of a couple.
People are still reticent here to divorce, some more than others. People who are quite religious might be reluctant to divorce but their partner may not. I’ve had people in their 80s getting divorced, people in their 20s and everything in between.
Couples aren’t so much worried about the cost of the divorce itself, but the financial consequences of it. How they will split one household into two and pay for everything? We saw people holding off on getting divorced during the recession. There were a lot of homes in negative equity so couples would delay until they could sell their property without making a loss.
There are five reasons for a divorce; adultery, unreasonable behaviour, desertion, a two-year separation with consent from both parties or a five year separation. In the UK 78% of divorces are on a fault basis, whereas in Northern Ireland 78% of divorces come after a separation. People here tend to pick things apart rather than rushing out into a divorce or into a new relationship. They will work out details such as finance and custody of their children first.
Nearly all divorces here are instigated by women — I would say between two thirds and three quarters.
If you are considering divorce the most important thing to do is seek advice early. I always try to manage expectations with clients and ask them where they see themselves in two years time.”
Claire Edgar (45) and is a senior partner at Francis Hanna & Co. She is divorced with two daughters. She says:
If someone is thinking of separating from a partner they tend to come and discuss their options. Couples don’t actually enquire about divorce in the first instance, they tend to consider how they will live separately, what will happen to the children and dealing with big assets like houses.
I’ve been practising law for more than 20 years and I think attitudes have changed to divorce in Northern Ireland.
Previously, people here would have been much more embarrassed about divorce for religious or social reasons or they felt they should stick with their marriage. As divorce is more prevalent now, couples are less likely to stay in a failed marriage.
Cost is always a worry for people, particularly when splitting up one household for two. It’s not the legal costs which concern people. Many couples haven’t been in a position to move on as their house was in negative equity. They had to put things on hold and were stuck sharing the same house.
Figures show more women instigate divorce than men. People here prefer a separation and no-fault divorce because they don’t want to have to air their problems in public. Although sometimes a fault-based divorce is necessary because they need to move faster. Where financial matters and issues around children have been agreed then most couples are happy to wait for a separation.”
Independent News Service