Life After Lucy: Susy Jepson

by Susy Jepson on 8 May 2017

Susy JepsonWoman’s Hour sometime in 1975: there was a feature about Lucy Cavendish College, a new very small Cambridge Collegiate Society, which had been taking mature female undergraduates for only a few years. I was in my mid-twenties and happened, by some quirk of extreme good fortune, to be at home between jobs. I was hooked. It was for me. From then on, without telling anyone of my intention, I worked towards getting a place.

I came from a family where everyone, it seemed, went to Cambridge: parents, brothers, grandfathers, and so on.  I was secretly afraid to go to University, terrified, I think, of making a fool of myself, so I had carved my own, rather different, path by going abroad, (perhaps a foreigner abroad can be forgiven more?) first to Strasbourg University and then to the Goethe Institut, to perfect, respectively, my French and German. I had grown up with tales of Cambridge, but had never thought I could create my own!

So what subject could I read?  Sciences were out of the question: I hadn’t even done an ‘O’ level in a science and it held no interest in any case.  Languages would have been the obvious choice but further study wouldn’t, I thought, have led to any job after graduation except teaching, and I knew I wasn’t cut out to be a school teacher.  However, I had several friends employed in high street solicitors’ practices who loved what they did and always had fascinating and funny stories about their work.  Law it was to be.

To prove to myself that I could still study, I did a Law ‘A’ level in evening classes.  My results were unspectacular but, for some reason, I was not deterred, and, my luck holding, my teacher was hugely encouraging about my applying to University.  Applying only to Cambridge would have seemed to be tempting fate, but Lucy asked me for an interview (and accepted me) before any other University had even responded! 

Despite having always doubted my abilities, I wasn’t at all nervous about my interview and recall enjoying the challenges of the questions (which were clearly to see if one could think and reason), something I later realised was a foretaste of the glorious things to come! My interview was with the formidable duo, Natasha Squire and Jillinda Tiley, who in retrospect should have been terrifying but in fact weren’t. My luck held with the written exam which featured the one essay topic I had researched which was about juries (a topical subject at the time).

In my first year, I had a room in College House (the tiniest one imaginable) but in the second and third years, a lovely room in Barrmore, which had just been decorated in what was then the very trendy Laura Ashley wallpaper and curtains. I was very happy. Lucy was then only the three houses, Strathaird, College House and Barrmore and we were 50 undergrads in all. We felt like trailblazers, a tiny group amongst thousands. I was the only lawyer in my year (though I was later joined by Sandie Shallcross who converted from another – much less interesting! – subject).  I believe that only one or two lawyers had preceded us at Lucy.  I quickly found I had superb supervisors, since they were chosen from the best in several other Colleges.  What luck!  I loved the challenges of the law and, after some initial difficulties and support from the lovely late lamented Marie Lawrence, my tutor, I came out with a 2:1 (which my father jocularly pronounced to be “pretty good for someone your age” – I was 32!)

Law College (to complete the legal practice course to become a solicitor) was unstimulating and with set answers (no arguing cogently from first principles there), and Articles (as they were then called) in a large London firm pretty dull until I came to do Commercial law in my final seat, which set the tone for the rest of my career. I spent some time in private practice doing general commercial work, but then the opportunity arose to go “in-house” with Somerfield the supermarket (now sadly taken over by the Co-op).  The breadth and depth of work at a large supermarket, particularly once I became Head of Legal, were pretty stretching but hugely interesting, varying between approving the wording of ads, to franchising, to online sales, to competition and liquor licensing. I then briefly worked for a bank before joining Vodafone Group on a temporary arrangement to work in Düsseldorf.  This “temporary” arrangement has lasted for over ten years and taken me all over the world, including a year living in Luxembourg, negotiating and drafting multi-country, multi-year, multi-million pound IT contracts.  I’ve now stepped back and do a very pleasant three days a week in our London office.  This gives me time to, for instance, be an instrumental part of a scheme to save the local pub or to assist my local Allotment Association with interpretation and re-drafting of its Rules.  Law has an application in the world beyond paid work!

Lucy gave me opportunities I had never even dreamt would be mine, both at Cambridge and beyond, including – of course – being in the very first Lucy boat. Thank you Lucy Cavendish!