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News > Life After Hymers > Celebrating Women in Law

Celebrating Women in Law

100 years since the first female was admitted as a solicitor in England, we heard from Natasha Saleh (OH 2001-03) regarding her career in law



It seems hard to believe that there was once a time when women were not allowed to follow a career in the legal profession.  It wasn't until the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 was passed that women were allowed to enter the legal profession.  This law ensured women’s entry into the professions for the first time, after a protracted legal battle.  It also stipulated that women would receive their degrees from universities on completion of study, and that women could act on juries and as magistrates.

Dr Ivy Williams was the first woman to be called to the English Bar on the 10th May 1922, although she never practised as a barrister, instead becoming the first woman to teach law at an English university. Williams studied law at the Society of Oxford Home Students (later St Anne's College), the third woman to study law at Oxford University.

Helena Normanton was the first woman to practise as a barrister in England.  She was called to the Bar in November 1922 at Middle Temple, just a few months after Ivy Williams. Normanton went on to become the first female counsel in cases in the High Court of Justice, and the first woman to obtain a divorce for a client.

Carrie Morrison, Maud Crofts, Mary Pickup and Mary Sykes became the first women to pass the Law Society examinations.  Then on 18th December, Carrie Morrison became the first woman to be admitted as a solicitor in England. For women who did not have fathers or husbands who were lawyers it was often financially impossible for them to get articles.

Since the admittance of girls at Hymers College, the school has helped many females start a career in law.  We spoke to Natasha Saleh to hear about her journey into law.

Natasha Saleh OH 2001-03 is an international corporate lawyer who trained and practiced Banking and Finance Law in the City of London at Dentons, the world’s largest law firm.  She also has over 13 years of university lecturing experience; was head of Corporate Finance at The University of York and is now Training Manager and Head of Business Law at BPP Law School, London.

She has two degrees (First Class Honours) and a Masters in International Corporate and Commercial Law (Distinction) from University of York.  She has written articles, and spoken and chaired panel discussions e.g. at the LSE (London School of Economics) focusing on inspiring young people, especially girls, to work in Corporate Law and Finance in the City.  She has also returned to the school to speak to Hymers Law Society.

How did you progress into a career in law?

I always wanted to go into Law. I had a keen interest in business and speak languages so working in international corporate law was an opportunity to work with a number of different types of businesses on a number of different issues, and use my languages.

I studied English Literature for my first undergraduate degree as I knew the Law wasn’t going anywhere and your undergraduate degree is one of the few times you can study something that really interests you in detail. Coming from a non-Law background (about half of lawyers come from a non-Law background) is also valuable as you look at something from a different perspective and bring different questions to the table.

I then did a conversion course and the Legal Practice Course. I was fortunate enough to get a couple of Training Contracts from two leading international corporate firms but I deferred starting at my chosen firm by one year to also do a Masters in International Corporate Law and do some formal language courses to get certificates in my language skills, all at the University of York. Law is very competitive so all extra qualifications are a way of standing out.

How did the teachers at Hymers help shape your career journey?

I did A Levels in English, History, French and Politics. Mr King and Mrs Chorlton taught me English and Ms Stanyon taught me Renaissance History. Both subjects involve reading/digesting a large volume of information, drawing out the key issues and themes, and presenting them in well balanced arguments.  Mrs Chorlton taught me the value and effect of language and how you can use it to develop your arguments. With History, I enjoyed looking at evidence and bias sources etc. Dr Wilson taught me French.

In addition to the subjects taught by them; my teachers’ own encouragement and belief in me, shaped me. Dr Wilson’s own story in getting his PhD and becoming Head of Languages at Hymers really encouraged me. His passion for teaching and belief in me, made a life-long impression. He has become a dear friend to me and now I hope to always convey that passion for teaching and belief in my own students, to them – as I learnt from him (and all of my teachers at Hymers) just how powerful an effect that can have.

Any advice that you would give to your younger self starting in a Law career?

All experience is good experience, get as much as you can. Also, be yourself (that’s what all law grad recruits say too) and don’t compare yourself to anyone else. Everyone’s journey is different. Before I got my Training Contract offers, I got rejections. I remember my dad picking me up from a TC interview in London that I knew hadn’t gone well and I was crying and so dejected. I remember him saying ‘it is not a race, you are on your own time – if you want something enough and work hard enough for it, you will get there’. He was right and I did - so that was pretty good advice to my younger self! ?

Also take every opportunity; during my Masters studies, my Professor gave me the opportunity to lecture Corporate Finance to final year undergraduate Law students – I really loved it and ultimately ended up going back to lecturing in Corporate Finance so you never know where they may lead.

Lastly, try and get some mentors in the legal profession who can help and guide you and to whom you can go to for advice. Your network will develop over time. I am always happy to help people coming into corporate law, as that was me once.

What skills do you consider essential for a career in law?

Being a team player, but also being able to work on your own, under time pressure, and on multiple tasks concurrently, with minimum supervision. Also, commercial awareness, analytical thinking, written communication and interpersonal skills, attention to detail, adaptability and a strong work ethic as the hours in global corporate law firm can be brutal!

When you look back at your time at Hymers, what are some of your fondest memories?

The people and the experience.

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