Family law lawyer Claudia Ribet of Ribet &
Silver is barely 5 feet tall, but she makes up
for it with the volume of her voice. Family
legend has it that Ribet first diagnosed her
father’s loss of hearing when he attended
an oral argument and told her afterward
that he didn’t think the justices could hear
her. “I simply boom in the courtroom, so I
knew something was wrong,” she says.
Ribet calls herself a tough New Yorker;
so last fall it came as a surprise when
she paused in the middle of a closing
argument to address the judge in
decidedly West Coast fashion. “I need a
mindfulness minute here,” she told them.
“I just need a breathing moment.”
She laughs, recounting the story.
Normally, she says, “There is no way I’d ever
“And then that’s all she wrote,” Ribet says.
say such a touchy-feely California thing—
not for all the tea in China. But my accident
profoundly changed how I practice law.”
In July 2009, Ribet, a road cyclist for
seven years, was two weeks away from
racing the Senior Olympic Games in Palo
Alto. But while on a training ride, a friendly
competitor sailed by her and said, “Sorry,
Claudia,” so Ribet hit the gas.
“Next thing I know, I’m on the ground.
My first thought was, ‘Oh shit, I won’t be
able to go see Coldplay tonight.’ My next
thought was, ‘Oh shit, I won’t be able to
race in the games.’ My last thought was,
‘Oh shit, I don’t have any feeling from the
nipples down—who’s going to give me the
drugs to kill myself?’”
Airlifted to the hospital, Ribet was in
intensive care for 10 days with a broken neck.
“I was a quadriplegic for a few weeks,”
she says. “It was a terrifying time. I was
devastated for my firm, I was devastated for
my clients, and I was clearly devastated for
myself that I had ‘done this’ to everyone,”
Her doctors hoped she might regain
use of her limbs, so she was enrolled in a
rehabilitation unit. “I worked myself to the
bone,” Ribet says. “Hours upon hours each
day, to the point that once they put me back
in bed I could not move.”
Seven weeks later, she walked back
through the doors of her law firm.
She lives with chronic neuropathic pain,
so a friend suggested meditation-based
stress relief. “I said to myself, ‘This is so
dumb.’ But it started a paradigm shift in
my life. I am a full believer now in how
breathing and meditation can really alter
your central nervous system. I mean, it
doesn’t always work. I got really hot under
the collar just last week. But for the most
part, it does.”
Ribet brings to her family practice a deep
appellate background. She is particularly
proud of a case in which a woman won a
nearly $1.5 million lottery jackpot, to be paid
in 20 installments from 1996 to 2015. The
woman filed for divorce after the win and
concealed the money from her ex-husband,
whom Ribet represented during the appeal.
“The question was: Will it be a published
Ribet doesn’t race anymore but she
decision,“ she says, “and would it make
widely meaningful law? It took me a week
just to write the first sentence of the brief. I
said to the court of appeal when I argued,
basically, you need to send a message to the
state of California that lying and cheating in
a divorce is not OK. And the subtext of that
was: Publish, publish, publish!”
In the end, the ex-husband won 100
percent of the jackpot winnings. And yes,
the decision was published.
refused to give up the bike. She’s on the
roads every weekend. “So that’s all there is
to it,” she says.
DID CLAUDIA RIBET’S BICYCLE ACCIDENT TURN HER INTO A BETTER LAWYER OR JUST A BETTER CALIFORNIAN?
BY AMY KATES
Ribet, before the fall and the “touchy-feely California thing.”