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Divorcee sues top law firm after taking out 'crippling' loan to pay for legal fight with husband

Patrick Sawer
The Royal Courts of Justice, where the case will be heard - Moment RF

A businesswoman who wrongly believed she would win a substantial divorce settlement from her wealthy husband is suing a top law firm after taking out a crippling loan to pay their fees.

Mother of two Carolyn Trainor-Gilham had been expecting to receive millions of dollars from her former husband, Robert Gilham, a British-born property developer based in the US.

But instead she found herself taking out a large loan with punitive 50 per cent interest rates to pay her lawyers’ fees, and settling for far less from Mr Gilham than she had originally rejected.

Mrs Trainor-Gilham is now taking legal action Charles Russell Speechlys - one of Britain's top 50 law firms - after accusing the law firm of negligence.

She claims in legal papers lodged with the High Court that if the firm had investigated Mr Gilham’s involvement in a $127 million property scheme in Oregon she would have received another £2-3 million.

Mrs Trainor-Gilham instructed the firm to act for her in her divorce and financial settlement in June 2013, and warned her solicitor that her husband would probably try to “degrade the claimant’s ability to pursue claims”.

Her only income came from her former husband, and she says the firm knew she would be unable to pay its fees – more than £60,000 by December 2013 – within its time frame of 30 days.

According to a writ lodged with the High Court, on the firm’s advice in September 2013 Mrs Trainor-Gilham rejected her husband’s initial offer of a house worth around £600,000 with maintenance payments, a share in the property project, and school fees.

She claims Charles Russell Speechlys suggested she should take out a commercial loan to cover her legal fees and further fees of around £100,000 and threatened it would stop acting for her if she did not pay or arrange future funding.

It is claimed the City-based firm dissuaded her from borrowing privately from her sister, failed to tell her to take independent legal or financial advice, and arranged a £150,000 loan with Silver Clouds Loans LLP at an interest rate of 25 per cent.

If the loan was not repaid in full within 18 months, the loan would attract a penal rate of 50%, but this was allegedly not explained to her, the court will hear.

Mrs Trainor-Gilham, from Cambridge, agreed a final settlement of $1.25m with her former husband in March 2017, with no order for costs, which meant the loan had to be repaid from the lump sum. After interest, she was left with £353,190. 

She says she told her solicitors that Mr Gilham, 54, had tried to hide his assets from them, but that the firm was reluctant to take steps to discover the true extent of his finances.

Mrs Trainor-Gilham believes he received tens of millions of dollars from his participation in the

Burnside Bridgehead project, a luxury apartment complex with gym and holistic wellness centre overlooking the city of Portland, Oregon, on the US west coast.

She was advised to accept her husband’s maintenance of £5,000 a month until she received the anticipated lump sum, followed by £2000 a month until she reaches the age of 65, or remarries or cohabits.

This, she argues, was not enough for herself and her teenage children, and she is now

being forced to reduce her standard of living with no reasonable prospect of improving it.

The divorcee claims the firm negligently advised her to reject the initial offer, placed undue priority on its own fees, and failed to investigate to reveal the potentially huge bounty from Mr Gilham.

A spokesman for Charles Russell Speechlys denied Mrs Trainor-Gilham’s allegations, stating: “We are contesting the claim in its entirety, and will be lodging our defence at the High Court.”