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Field Court Chambers, 30 APR 2018

A day in the life of ... Ruth Cabeza, barrister at Field Court Chambers

Ruth Cabeza

Barrister

A day in the life of ... Ruth Cabeza, barrister at Field Court Chambers

What is your position and what do you do on a day-to-day basis?


I am a self-employed barrister based in London, and I specialise in family law. As a self-employed person I work when I have work and I do what is required for each given job. Sometimes this means spending the day at home preparing a case or writing an advice, sometimes this means travelling to a court and representing one of the parties at a hearing. Most of my cases involving decisions concerning the future of children in cases where the children have, or are possibly going to be, changing their home from one country to another.

How long have you been in this role and what brought you here?

I have been a barrister since I was called to the bar in 1998, but it was hard to find a pupillage and I didn’t complete pupillage at Coram Chambers until September 2000. I eventually undertook a Third Six pupillage at Field Court Chambers and accepted their offer of a tenancy in December 2001. 17 years later I am still here! My parents married and divorced each other twice, and the acrimony that surrounded their extensive litigation was the backdrop of my childhood. Accordingly, the one area of law I was clear I didn’t want to get involved in was family law! However, as often happens, life rolled forward, events happened, and by the end of my pupillage, Family Law had chosen me. Despite my initial misgivings about this field of practice, it turned out to be a great option for me. There is a lot of advocacy, but it is not as brutal as crime. I know that I have made a difference to peoples’ lives: sometimes by getting them what they wanted, sometimes what they needed and sometimes just by giving them a sense that they were heard, which can make swallowing a bitter pill a little less painful. So what brought me here was, in large part, serendipity.

Any memorable stories from your career so far?

There are many stories. Some are memorable because they were very sad, some because of the eccentricities of the Judge. But some are memorable because of the witness evidence itself, which is so extraordinary that it is almost unbelievable. One such case was a contested divorce. My client was the petitioner and she sought to establish irretrievable breakdown of marriage on the basis of unreasonable behaviour. She had alleged that during the marriage her husband had assaulted her with a branch of a tree. There was no corroborative evidence of her claim, which was said to have occurred several years previously in a different country. I put it to the husband that he had indeed assaulted his wife with a tree branch. To my astonishment he responded “Well that is where you are wrong! It was not a branch it was only a stick!” Needless to say we won that case. Article continues below...
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What is the best and worst part of the day for you?

The best part of the day is being on my feet in a courtroom. The worst part of the day is drafting a long and complex court order at the end of the day.

What keeps you motivated?

I love my job. Of course there are aspects of my job that don’t like. In particular I don’t like administrative tasks like billing and sorting out my tax affairs. And I don’t much enjoy the process of the initial reading into a case and absorbing the information. However, once the facts are at my finger tips and the analysis stage begins, it is the best thing ever. Sifting through the case law, following through on statutory and regulatory provisions, thinking you have found an excellent solution, only to discover that there is an obstacle. Sometimes you can overcome it (with a bit of creative thought or a tweak of your objective) sometimes you have to start all over. It is like a treasure hunt, very exhilarating. Then, after you have worked out your battle strategy, you have to go into court and engage in the trial. As I once said at a networking event (not realising I was in the company of a High Court Judge) cross examination is as much fun as you can have with your clothes on. Luckily for me it turned out that the Judge had a sense of humour…

Tea or coffee?

Yes Please. 

What would you say to anyone thinking of a career in your field?

Being a barrister is not just a job it is a way of life. You need to have excellent academic and analytical skills to do provide the legal analysis and the written advocacy. You will need to be empathetic with your clients to build a rapport and really understand what they want and why they want it. But you also need to remain detached from their emotions in order to keep your own sanity. You need to be extrovert enough to perform in court and hold your own in negotiations with the other side, and of course to market yourself. These are necessary skills to do the day job, and they probably apply to many jobs. But for a barrister that is just a small part of what is needed. To be a really successful barrister you have to thrive in an environment that is never certain. Whether you are working tomorrow, whether you will be free for dinner that night with your best friend, whether you will win or lose (or be adjourned) when you will get paid (if you get paid). If your trial doesn’t finish on time and you go part-heard your holiday plans may have to change. The one thing you will never have is a steady routine and a dependable certain income. So I would advise someone to think about how they cope with stress and how much they need routine. If, like me, they hate routine and thrive on the adrenalin rush that accompanies the uncertain, go for it! 

What song do you listen to the most?

Right now I am liking ‘Here You Come Again’ by Dolly Parton. But I am quite fickle and next week it will something new.

Who inspires you within the world of family law?

So many people in the world of family law are an inspiration. But if I had to pick just one, it would be Mrs Justice Pauffley (who retired last year). She was always so calm, so on top of the case, so kind to the litigants. She was polite to Counsel, even when dressing them down. And I don’t think I ever saw her conduct any part of a hearing in a way that appeared unfair. For some reason it often turned out that I was listed before her, and discovering that fact always cheered me up.
 

How do you enjoy your time outside of work?

My husband and I have moved to a house in Norfolk which is where we live part-time and where my elder daughter and grandchildren live full time. When I am not working you will find me collecting kindling in the garden, or making jam from the fruit in the garden, playing with the cats and/or grandchildren, or lazing about doing nothing, looking at the garden. Oh, and I am horribly addicted to playing a computer game called Civilisation IV. 

What book would you recommend to others?

A Bit of Singing and Dancing, by Susan Hill. This book changed my life. It made me realise that the only person in control of me was me. I was responsible for my destiny and I should stop complaining about the restraints placed on me by the circumstances of my life and get on with the business breaking them and setting myself free. 

What would be your alternate career?

An actress. Preferably on Eastenders.

If you could change one thing about the family justice system what would it be and why?

I would appoint a lot more Judges. Our Judges are over-listed and often don’t have time to properly read into a case. Every single issue litigated before the Family Court is of central importance to the lives of the people appearing before the Judge. How can we hope to have Justice when the Judges don’t have time to consider all the evidence before them? This issue is particularly important when so many people are not in a position to obtain legal representation.

Ruth is an author of Surrogacy: Law, Practice and Policy in England and Wales

All of our A day in the life of ... subjects can be found here.