Butler is proud to highlight the diversity among our team of attorneys. Many come from different backgrounds and walks of life. These experiences both professionally and in life are what bring a powerful dynamic and impact to the legal services we provide to our clients. This is especially true of this month’s spotlight attorney, Of Counsel Mihaela Cabulea. Originally from Romania, Mihaela is a board certified Appellate specialist. In our interview she shares the significance of board certifications in law, how a Ph.D. in philosophy helped develop her legal writing skills, and shares a piece of folklore from her home country.
You recently received your Appellate Board Certification. This is a highly commendable achievement. What does board certification mean for an attorney, and why is it so important?
The Florida Bar’s board-certification program recognizes special knowledge, skills, and proficiency in 27 areas of law, as well as a reputation for professionalism and ethics. Board certification is the Florida Bar’s highest level of evaluation of the competency and experience of an attorney in a particular area of practice and only a board-certified attorney can refer to herself as a specialist in the area of practice in which she obtained board certification. A board certified attorney has a special responsibility above and beyond other members of the Florida Bar to maintain high professionalism standards. Attaining board certification is a significant career milestone for any lawyer. Out of 100,000 + Florida attorneys only 5,000 + are board certified and only 208 are specialists in appellate practice. Thus, in a legal landscape that is increasingly competitive, board-certified attorneys are able to use their status as specialists in a particular area of law to set themselves apart.
Writing has played a big part in your legal career. While studying law at the University of Miami, you served as a Dean’s Fellow in the Legal Writing Center. In 2019 you received the FDLA Trial Advocate Award for your contributions to the “Trial Advocate,” FDLA’s professional journal. You are also currently a member of Butler’s Media Committee. How would you encourage young attorneys to develop their writing skills?
Writing has been part of my life ever since I started college. As an undergraduate student, I translated several philosophy books from English into Romanian. A good translation entails rewriting the original text to make it flow naturally in the language in which it is translated. As a Ph.D. student in philosophy, writing, constructing, and deconstructing arguments were part of my daily activities for 5 years.
Legal writing, however, is different from other forms of writing. Below are some of the things that have helped me develop my legal writing skills, which I recommend to those who want to improve their legal writing skills:
Most importantly, never ever assume you achieved perfection when it comes to legal writing. Although these days I do not edit my briefs, motions, or articles three times, I still rely on other people to review them and I still read books about legal writing and adapt some of the advice to my writing style.
You served on the Florida Bar Appellate Court Rules Committee from 2013-2016, and were appointed by the President of the Florida Bar to serve again for the 2019- 2022 term. How has your experience serving on the committee enhanced your career as a lawyer?
Serving on the Florida Bar Appellate Court Rules Committee has been one of my most rewarding professional activities. Working closely with a group of dedicated and extremely smart appellate practitioners, judges, and clerks is a great way to get to know other practitioners and form lasting professional bonds. In addition, the work is intellectually stimulating as it oftentimes requires research to determine whether and how to amend the rules, and it involves a great deal of brainstorming to come up with the best and clearest version of a proposed amendment. Serving on the committee has helped me gain in depth knowledge of the appellate rules, which has been of great help in my preparation for the board certification exam. It is also a great way to keep abreast of the latest changes in the rules.
Romania is home for you. When did you move to the United States, and what Romanian traditions did you bring with you?
I moved to the U.S. in 2005 when I started law school. One of the most important traditions I brought with me is a vestimentary one. I like to wear traditional Romanian folk blouses, which are hand embroidered and made of either cotton, flax, linen or silk.
Historians believe the Romanian folk blouse, called “ie,” dates back to the Neolithic age, because some of the stylized symbols embroidered on the blouse are specific to the Cucuteni culture (5500 – 2750 BC). The symbols embroidered on each “ie” and the colors used for the embroidery would tell a story about the woman who wore/created it: what region of Romania she was from, her marital and social status, whether she had children, her social environment and existential issues. Every stich is a coded message telling a story. Some of the symbols embroidered on these traditional blouses include protective symbols to shield from the evil; symbols of transience, renewal and eternal life; and symbols of fertility, vitality, power and fortune.
Throughout history, the Romanian “ie” has inspired artists as well as fashion designers. Henri Matisse has a famous painting – “La Blouse Roumaine” (1940) – which was inspired by a beautiful handcrafted Romanian blouse he received as a gift from his Romanian friend and fellow painter, Theodor Pallady. As a tribute to Matisse’s painting, Yves Saint Laurent dedicated his autumn-winter collection in 1981 – titled “La blouse roumaine” – to the traditional Romanian “ie.” Other designers inspired by the Romanian “ie” include Jean Paul Gautier, Oscar de la Renta, Tom Ford, and Philippe Guilet.
For me the Romanian “ie” represents the history, unity and continuity of the Romanian people. It is a symbol of strength, resilience, determination, beauty, and creativity. It is a reminder of my roots and of the great qualities I have inherited from my ancestors and brought with me to this great nation which is now my home.
When you’re not hard at work in the office, what are some of your favorite things to do to unwind?
I love nature and photography. So depending on the time of year, I like to go hiking, biking, paddle boarding, snorkeling, and wild mushroom (chanterelle) hunting. Usually I take my camera with me (even under water) to take photographs of wildlife, landscapes, sunrises and sunsets. I discovered sound meditation in 2016, when I visited Tibet and brought back a Tibetan singing bowl. Ever since I have been practicing sound meditation regularly. The benefits for the mind and body are amazing.