Professor Natalie Lee (LLB, 1973), speaks about her journey from Southampton student, to barrister, to Head of the Law School, and about what she will miss when she leaves the institution.
What is my fondest memory of studying at the University? Meeting my husband is probably the right answer! However, my abiding memory is of a group of people who, over the three years, became good and incredibly supportive friends, many of whom continue to be regular attenders at the annual alumni event in the City.
The best part of my course was the final year when, amongst other subjects, I studied Equity & Trusts and Revenue Law, both taught by the amazing Alex Easson, sadly now deceased. So much did he inspire me that, on graduating, I read for the Bar and spent my first six months of pupillage in Chancery chambers and the second six in Tax chambers. Since my return to Southampton in 1976 as a lecturer, I have taught and researched into both of these subjects.
After graduating, I was called to the Bar and spent a year engaged in the required practical training, pupillage. Whilst in pupillage, I did some part-time lecturing at a Polytechnic and much enjoyed the interaction with the students. With my pupillage drawing to an end, my marriage just a month after that, the possibility of a family in the future and a husband who refused to live in London, I quickly realised that life at the Tax Bar would prove somewhat difficult. Accordingly, whilst working out exactly what I wanted to do, I joined the legal publishers, Sweet & Maxwell as an editor and stayed there for a year before returning to Southampton as a lecturer.
I had stayed in touch with one of my Professors, the very great David Jackson, who alerted me to a temporary lectureship that had arisen in the Law Faculty (as it was then). I applied and, after being interviewed by those who had not long before taught me, I was offered the post. This was made permanent during the course of that first year back in Southampton.
I thought that I wanted to be a barrister, but there was always a slight doubt in my mind. I loved every minute of my brief spell at the Bar, but I have loved academia even more and, even though it was not the life I had envisaged on graduating, I would not have chosen any other.
Students in 1970 did not have the opportunities now available to current students. There were no careers fairs, no opportunity to meet with practitioners and no encouragement to moot or negotiate. Nonetheless, more generally that period was an exciting time to be a student – everybody seemed far more engaged with politics in those days, and the University experienced a major sit-in of the Administration Building over the appointment of a member of staff in the German Department.
There are so many opportunities open to students at Southampton nowadays, and my advice has always been to grab every opportunity that comes along. The chance of meeting a former Southampton student could open doors to a job, and attending the wide range of lectures around the campus opens the mind to the world outside the narrow confines of the law. The need to work hard is obvious, but my advice to a student embarking on an undergraduate degree is to make sure that there is a balance to life: successful practitioners are those who are both intellectually capable of dealing with the rigours of the law and, most importantly, have the character that enables them to recruit clients and sustain a good working relationship with those clients. Further, since reading for the Bar is now so expensive and there are so few pupillages to be obtained, if a student expresses a desire to go to the Bar, I always say that if they have any doubts at all, then they should not pursue that goal and consider alternatives.
Since law students who wish to become solicitors will need to start applying for internships very near to the beginning of the second year, it is essential that they obtain really good first year marks; apart from GCSEs and A levels, this is all potential employers have to go on in terms of proven ability. It is tempting to drift a little in the first year as it does not count towards the final degree classification, but that year matters both in terms of laying the foundations for what is to come next as well as providing proof of ability. Students should take advantage of the opportunities offered by the Law School, such as attending the careers fair and the employability skills programme, taking part in mooting or negotiating competitions and assisting in one of the law clinics. Outside of this, helping in the local Citizens Advice Bureau, marshalling for a judge, note-taking in court for a firm of solicitors and gaining work experience all help students to become more employable. However, the Law School can only go so far in providing the opportunities and offering sound advice: the impetus must come from the student.
I will miss the students enormously. They have delighted me for forty years, and many former students remain as very good friends. The current second and third year law students whom I currently teach are amazing. For the most part, they work really hard and keep me on my toes. It is always a pleasure to see them responding to feedback, succeeding in obtaining great marks and, in some cases, receiving the job offers they so desperately wanted. My life will be very empty without them.