Name: Monica Feria-Tinta
Chambers: 20 Essex Street Chambers
Degree: Bachiller en Derecho, LL.M, Diploma Hague Academy of International Law
Studied BPTC at: N/A – I was a foreign qualified barrister and did the BTT
Hobbies: Shotokan Karate, chess, tennis, long-distance walking, opera, classical music, auteur filmmaking, books.
How many rounds of applications did it take to get pupillage? One
Number of interviews attended: Two
Why did you decide to train as a barrister?
I grew up under a dictatorship. At the age of 12 I knew, I wanted to become a lawyer. I saw in law a civilising force and I wanted to be part of it. I originally trained as a barrister in a civil law system. I then specialised in international law. It was in the course of my work as a public international lawyer that I first became acquainted with the style of advocacy specific to the English Bar, which has historically featured prominently in international cases.
However, it was observing the late Sir Ian Brownlie and Sir Christopher Greenwood (currently the UK Judge at the ICJ), in action, pleading on immunities and on crimes against humanity respectively, on the Pinochet case at the then House of Lords, that left me in awe. I would queue every day to attend the hearings purely out of interest. I had been teaching Public International Law as teaching assistant to Sir Christopher Greenwood at the LSE back then, but attending those hearings made me think: “I want to do what he is doing“. It was formidable.
What was the toughest pupillage interview question you were asked (at any chambers) and how did you answer?
The “toughest” question relating to pupillage was not during a formal interview. It was rather posed by my first supervisor or pupil master when we met on my first day as a pupil. He told me: “Tell me about you“.
It was “tough” because I was not expecting it (‘hasn’t he read my CV?’- I thought). It was also tough because I knew I had to be succinct yet I had to provide an accurate picture of my academic and professional experience. Defining yourself to a stranger ought to be the most difficult question surely. I paused for a second and told him in one line something about me. He then briefed me on a commercial case. The files covered the full length of his shelves. That was the start of a remarkable period for me. He introduced me to English law in a way that would make me forever grateful to him.
Tell us a bit about the type of work you’re doing at the moment…
I practise in public international law, private international law, and international arbitration (commercial, investment and inter-state arbitration). My practice also covers public law with a strong emphasis on human rights.
Recent work in investment arbitration concerned an ICSID case arising from 52 construction contracts. It involved a complex disclosure exercise. I believe a strong background in State Responsibility theory enabled me to deal with issues of attribution in such a complex case, which related to state organs signing contracts. I have just completed an application relating to a high stake, multi-jurisdictional arbitration against a State owned-entity. I am currently acting as a member of the legal team representing the Foreign & Commonwealth Office on a multimillion-pound human rights/tort claim before the High Court, and I am working on a ground-breaking human rights application before a UN organ. One of the difficult issues concerning the UN application is that the facts involve a country currently under strife where it is difficult to access the witnesses and evidence.
Sometimes I am sought for legal opinions on specific points of law, but most of the time I seem to be involved in complex litigation or arbitration. When my cases allow me, I work on a book I am authoring, on immunities and enforcement of awards to, be published by Oxford University Press.
What are the most enjoyable aspects of your job?
The variety of issues I deal with. At this point in my development I find law fluid and full of connections. It is so exciting to make those connections. In public international law alone, areas such as law of the sea, immunities, human rights, State Responsibility, international criminal law and treaty interpretation may all come together in one case. It is so exciting to plunge into those waters, even more so, knowing that you may be contributing to the resolution of a boundary delimitation issue or a long-standing conflict between two States which may affect the lives of many people.
I also enjoy how public international law issues arise in commercial cases, sometimes in the most unexpected scenarios. It is fascinating to find new angles to areas about which I thought everything had been said, and to call upon all my knowledge at a theoretical level, to attempt a solution.
The Bar has certainly changed my perspective on public international law. I have gained a better insight on how it interacts and connects with areas such as energy, banking, shipping, trade or areas of public law. Working with other barristers in a team is something I really enjoy. The quality of the work is very high and it is a true privilege to be involved in work of such a high calibre.
What aspect of the job have you found most difficult to get to grips with?
Finding the right pace. Finding it difficult to keep a routine when you are bound by deadlines.
What about your job didn’t you expect before you started?
I did not expect that I would be working on a book to be published, in the second year of my tenure.
Who’s the most recent email in your inbox from, and what’s it about?
My most recent email was from a group of Embassies. It is an invitation to the 196th Anniversary of the Independence of Central America and the 36th Anniversary of the Independence of Belize.
What’s your best ‘in court’ anecdote so far?
It would be attending court on my last day as a pupil. I had a remarkable last day as a pupil, at a hearing before the Court of Appeal where I contributed to a ground-breaking case, a multibillion-pound commercial claim raising issues of patent law across Europe as well as questions of private international law. The case concerned five jurisdictions, and the opposing party argued that the conditions for negative declaratory relief were governed by the lex causae and not by the lex fori. Our arguments won. It became the lead case on the interpretation of article 15 of the Rome II Regulation.
The key for unlocking the legal issue at stake was to distinguish between procedure and substance in law. My pupil supervisor had given me as a question, the question the Court of Appeal would have to resolve in the case. This was my first experience working on a purely commercial case. I approached the matter with a beginners’ mind (with no assumptions) and it helped.
As I started getting deeper into my research I began to have strong feelings as to how to draft my opinion and I used all my skills, all my languages (including German but also French and Spanish). I went on to read authors from the 19th century, authors that have fallen out of currency like Savigny. Old treatises. It was exciting and stimulating. After finishing my research I had this Eureka moment, of knowing how I wanted to draft my opinion. That approach became the point the Court of Appeal took as the correct interpretation of the Rome II Article 15 provision.
At some point the Master of the Rolls asked my supervisor after he had cited an authority I had found: “Is this your case in a nutshell?” And he answered “Yes my Lord.” It was a great moment. It was great to see him in action and to see how everything including what I myself had contributed, came together. It was also rewarding to see how two different minds (mine coming from the public international law realm) and my supervisor’s (settled in the private law area) worked together.
Which member of chambers (barrister or otherwise) would you want to be on the run with in the event of a zombie apocalypse, and why?
It would have had been a member of Chambers who was recently elevated to the Bench: Sir Andrew Baker QC. He is truly unflappable.
Tell us two truths and one lie about yourself (in any order).
- I am left-handed
- I am a black belt in Shotokan karate.
- I learnt to read music before I learnt to read my first language
If you had not decided to become a lawyer, what career would you have chosen?
A writer, a film maker or a composer.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to pursue a career as a barrister?
Study mathematics seriously. You need a logical mind as a lawyer.