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Meta Title :A day in the life of ... Rachel Cooper
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May 3, 2019, 10:00 AM
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What is your position and what do you do on a day-to-day basis?
I am a family barrister specialising in the full range of family law issues. This means that the remit of my work is very broad. One day I might be acting for a local authority applying for a public law order, the next day for a private individual caught within a dispute over the financial or child arrangements following separation. My work also encompasses cases where there is an international element, such as child abduction or relocation, and alternative families. I also spend a great deal of time on trains and on Google maps finding my way to various courts on a day-to-day basis.
How long have you been in this role and what brought you here?
I have been a proper barrister for 6 months (since October 2018). I was a trainee barrister for a year before that.
What brought me into family law was primarily my fascination with 'the family'. I believe that family is at the heart of everything that we are and at the root of how we interface with the world around us. It is usually quite traumatic when the family unit breaks down whatever the cause of that. As a family lawyer, you have the immense honour and privilege of meeting people in a place of vulnerability and of helping them to find a way through the challenges that arise. It is a role that demands a great deal from you intellectually and interpersonally, but you wouldn't have it any other way.
Before becoming a barrister, I qualified as a family solicitor. I also worked as a judicial assistance to Sir Andrew McFarlane, President of the Family Division, and Lady Black of Derwent, DBE when they were both Justices of Appeal in the Court of Appeal.
Any memorable stories from your career so far?
It's family law and so almost every day involves a memorable story.
One short story from my time as a judicial assistant was invited to judge a mooting competition at QMUL with David Neuberger, then President of the Supreme Court. While we were waiting for the competition to start we ended up discussing names. I remarked that his initials spelled out 'Den'. With his quick smile whispering at the corners of his mouth, he told me that 'Den' had been his nickname at school. He then asked for my initials which are 'RMC'. Without missing a beat, he said, 'Ah - ready mixed concrete'. For the record, that wasn't my nickname at school, but it would have been an improvement on what was!
What is the best and worst part of the day for you?
The best part is when make a difference to someone's life by the job that you do for them in court. There is no better feeling in the world.
The worst parts are the late nights of reading and preparing and occasionally having to sacrifice your social life in order to get the job done.
What keeps you motivated?
The moments when you achieve a truly excellent result for your client and you feel like you have made a real difference. Also, and significantly, the community camaraderie of the solicitors and barristers that you work with or against who get you through difficult times and keep you laughing. It's so important to be surrounded by good people.
Tea or coffee?
Coffee - black and enormous quantities of it.
What would you say to anyone thinking of a career in your field?
It's not as glamorous as they make it appear on TV and no one dresses as elegantly as Jessica from Suits. My housemate reminds me daily that I look like I am going to a funeral when I leave the house.
Getting work experience is probably the most important thing: paralegal, marshal, volunteer with charities like the PSU or even work as a receptionist at a high street law firm. Do the debating and mooting competitions and consider doing some acting/comedy workshops.
It's a truly amazing job but it is also an unbelievably challenging job at times. The heights you can soar at good points are matched by the depths you can plummet at the difficult moments. You need to be ready for that and you must be able to ask for help when you need it. You also need to eat, sleep and try to keep doing other things that you love.
The most obvious person is Lady Hale. I find her approach so considered, courageous and kind. I was very inspired by my time at the Court of Appeal and by the humanity and dedication of the justices that I worked for. In my chambers, I am utterly inspired by our Heads of Chambers - Martha and Mark who are incredible at what they do and yet so approachable. I am daily blessed by having had amazing supervisors who still mentor me and by having fellow members whose work ethic, passion and quality of advocacy inspire me as much as the results they achieve for clients.
Maybe a wedding planner. The Bar might already be my alternate career though!...
If you could change one thing about the family justice system what would it be and why?
It has to be access to public funding, which is essentially the same as access to justice for most people caught up in the system. This is not just in terms of people having access to legal advice and representation but also having access to courts, judges and court staff when the time comes that are not completely overwhelmed. I would also not just want access to public funding to be expanded but also for the rates that lawyers doing this work are paid to ensure that the quality of lawyer doing this work is not lost.