London will be the first destination in the firm's ambitious international expansion. Next up? Düsseldorf and either Mexico or Central America.

The Manely Firm, an Atlanta-based family law firm, has always touted capabilities spanning Georgia and “all around the world.” 

Until recently, that was a jurisdictional argument, simply meaning the firm would take on cases involving divorce, child abduction and other issues where international law was in play. 

Soon, however, this will become a literal statement as the firm opens its first overseas office in London to complement its expansion around Georgia. 

Interacting with an average of nine countries (outside the U.S.) per week, the firm started to feel somewhat like a manufacturer weary of distributors that didn’t truly understand its product.

Hiring local partner firms in various markets, the fit and the knowledge baseline wasn’t always just right, founding partner Michael Manely told Global Atlanta in an emailed interview from London in July. 

Michael and Shelia Manely toured their upcoming London office in July, while it was still in the process of being finished out. Photo: Manely Firm

“Opening in London is the first step in taking a far more direct role in ensuring our clients’ success when we litigate abroad,” Mr. Manely said after touring a space undergoing finishing work in London’s posh Mayfair neighborhood, just across Green Park from Buckingham Palace. “This will mainstream our delivery of legal services since all of our efforts will remain in-house.”

The small office, at least in comparison with the firm’s six Georgia locations, will open with three people, but Mr. Manely expects the local team to grow quickly as the firm seeks to ensure it has a culturally appropriate presence that upholds its standard of excellence.

“While we practice international family law, it certainly remains true that family law is half law and half politics, with a little ‘p,’” Mr. Manely said. “You can’t just know the law, you have to know the culture, the society, the judiciary; you have to know which way the waters run. We couldn’t satisfy this requirement with just a nameplate.  We must have boots on the ground.” 

Even with the cultural affinity and so-called “special relationship” enjoyed by the U.S. and the U.K., Mr. Manely expected some skepticism as an outsider. 

 “I anticipated that the London legal community and perhaps even the residents might scoff at an American Firm in their presence. I couldn’t have been more wrong.  They are excited to have us there.  I’m quite sure we still have hurdles to face but so far, the anticipated ones have fallen away.” 

Mr. Manely and his wife (and the firm’s business manager) Shelia Manely just returned from a scouting trip Düsseldorf, Germany, where the firm plans to open another office by mid-2024. Given Brexit, they will use this space to hire attorneys licensed in relevant jurisdictions across the European Union. 

“We are next looking at Mexico or Central America.  We have extensive long range plans to literally provide family law services for international families around the globe,” Mr. Manely said. 

While he joked that some might see his plans for global family law domination as “somewhat megalomaniacal,” the process is simply a reflection of the far-reaching practice the firm has built out of his home state.

“There is so much more to family law than how it is so often approached. We serve our clients exceptionally well. Our attorneys and staff are more than a cut above. And since we are so often working abroad, we know the state of family law practice elsewhere, as well. Families deserve excellence. We provide them that.”

Upon their return from a month in Europe this summer, the Manely Firm continued its support of international events in Atlanta by sponsoring a U.K.-focused forum with Forward Forsyth, following June’s “Doing Business in India” event at the Cobb Chamber of Commerce. 

The Manely Firm has offices in Atlanta, Columbus, Cumming, Lawrenceville, Marietta, Savannah — and soon, London. 

Disclosure: The Manely Firm is an annual advertising partner with Global Atlanta. 

As managing editor of Global Atlanta, Trevor has spent 15+ years reporting on Atlanta’s ties with the world. An avid traveler, he has undertaken trips to 30+ countries to uncover stories on the perils...