skip to content

By Lesley Dingle and Daniel Bates

Professor Leonard Sedgwick Sealy: Emertitus S. J. Berwin Professor of Corporate Law

  • 1930: Born 22nd July, Putaruru, North Island, New Zealand
  • 1941- 48: Stratford High School.
  • 1948-53: University of Auckland, BA/LLB
  • 1953: University of Auckland, MA in classics
  • 1954: University of Auckland, LLM
  • 1953-55: Barrister & Solicitor (NZ)
  • 1955-58: Gonville & Caius, PhD on Company Law
  • 1958-59: Practised at NZ Bar
  • 1959: Yorke Prize, Fellowship at G&C, Assistant Lecturer
  • 1961-91: University of Cambridge, Lecturer in Law
  • 1963: Six months sabbatical, senior advocacy work in New Zealand
  • 1961-70: Tutor G&C
  • 1968: Sabbatical at ANU
  • 1970-75: Senior Tutor & Admissions Tutor G&C
  • 1982-88: Editor, Cambridge Law Journal
  • 1988-90: Chairman of Law Faculty
  • 1991-97: SJ Berwin Professor of Corporate Law
  • early 1990s: Involved in planning Sidgwick Site building
  • 1997: Retired

Additional Material

"Pioneering the Laws of Commerce: Conversations with Professor Leonard Sedgwick Sealy for the Cambridge ESA" (2013) 11  (4) Legal Information Management  278 - 283


This account is based on interviews conducted with Professor Sealy in February and April 2013, and on notes that he provided to supplement the oral material[1]. It will concentrate on Professor Sealy's relationships with the Faculty and College, while details of his publications will appear elsewhere.

Early years in New Zealand

Len Sealy was born and brought up in rural New Zealand, where his father was a school teacher. Curiously, it was snowing at the time - a rare event on the North Island, and as he recalled, he was not to "see" snow again until he arrived in Cambridge, twenty-five years later. Professor Sealy is proud of his New Zealand heritage, and recorded that his maternal great-great-grand parents, George and Martha Clarke arrived in 1824, where they "played quite a part in its early history". His immediate family were farmers on his mother's side and engineers of one sort or another on his father's side, but service in World War I had restricted his father's educational opportunities, and he remained a primary school headmaster.

By the time Len was ready for secondary school, the family was in Stratford, and World War II was well underway. By coincidence, the Sealy family was again educationally compromised by war, as the Stratford High School was bereft of staff: "at a time when virtually all the men teachers were away on active service at the war and many of the ladies were mums teaching part-time. Most science subjects had fallen by the wayside. However, by great good luck two splendid old chaps came out of retirement and gave me and another boy such a good grounding in maths and Latin that we both won scholarships to go to university."

I asked Professor Sealy whether the war held any memories for him, and although he could not recall the day it broke out (he was just nine at the time), he does have recollections of the Munich crisis, as he called it. The sinking of HMS Hood and the Bismarck[2] stand out, as well as rationing and sending off food parcels, while digging slit trenches in the school grounds in case there was an invasion from Japan was part of what Len remembers as an "emphasis on military things". Relatives and neighbours signing up and casualty lists in the papers were a constant reminder of the conflict, but in retrospect he admits that nothing "could possibly compare with the experiences of children growing up in England".

Nevertheless, the war did influence his life as, notwithstanding his scholarship, "my choice of law as a university course and subsequent career was very much a matter of default, since nothing on the science side would have been open to me." Len chose to do a combined BA/LLB course over five years. As at school, staffing at the University of Auckland in the immediate post-war years was "on a shoe-string". Professor Sealy recalls that "The Faculty consisted of Professor A.G. Davis[3] and one part-time lecturer. All the remaining teaching was given by practitioners out of office hours, in lectures of widely varying quality. So we had lectures from 8-9 a.m. and one or two from 9-10, and then again from 4 or 5 p.m. to 8. There was a huge hole in the middle of the day, so all of us worked in a law office part time. (I remember that my starting pay was £1 7s a week.) What this did mean was that when we qualified we knew our way around legal practice pretty well. Towards the end of my course the Faculty appointed another lecturer to work full time - Jack Northey who came via the civil service[4]. I think that we gave him a bad time at first because we had all had more practical experience of the law than he had! I suppose that I could say that he had some influence on my subsequent career because his main interest was in administrative law and he also lectured (as a novice!) in company law, and when I got to Cambridge those were my research choices."

On completing his LLB in 1953, Len decided "to take a break from law" and try his hand at a part-time MA using the Latin and Greek he had picked up during his BA, and the faint echoes from his school days. Also, he had "come under the spell of a rather mesmeric classics professor (E.M. Blaiklock[5])." This decision was met "with utter astonishment by the partners in my law firm. There was a wide distrust of higher learning within the profession – even an LLM was regarded with suspicion ("never get your feet on the ground again") and I was even told "The sooner you make up your mind whether you want to be a lawyer or a bloody fool, the better". But Len persisted, and by the time he completed the MA, he was practising as a lawyer.

Fate, in the form of Professor Geoffrey Davis, then stepped in and persuaded the university to put Len's name forward for a national scholarship to travel overseas. Curiously, he was entered for the Arts scholarship (probably because the biannual Law award was not for the current year). Len won, and then was disqualified because he elected to study law. Davis was very upset at this turn of events and appealed, without Len's knowledge, and persuaded the authorities to reverse their decision, but only for the following year. So, with a year to kill, Len decided to complete an LLM.

Gonville & Caius: Ph.D studies

Len's decision to apply to Gonville & Caius was strongly influenced by Geoffrey Davis's friendship with Ellis Lewis[6], the Librarian at the Squire Law Library. Both were Welsh, and Ellis Lewis had advised Davis that as Len wished to study administrative law, he should contact Professor Emlyn Wade[7] at Caius. Len had chosen this subject as a practical topic, "as I had no expectations other than returning to practice in New Zealand". It was under these presumptions that Len arrived in Cambridge in the autumn of 1955. For him it was a time of excitement, even for weather. "Rationing was over, just finished, I think, and .....when the snow came, that was something I hadn't experienced in Auckland, I went out with my camera and took pictures. Generally speaking everything was pretty easy for me...there was a good bunch of other postgraduate students in the college from all over the world, particularly some from the Commonwealth. I got on very well with them." Also "the Law Faculty had very few postgraduate students. I think there were only three of us working on common law subjects, so there weren't the same opportunities to make extensive numbers of friends, but most of the research students in Caius – I think there were about 50 of us altogether – were scientists and they were very freely swapping ideas and it was great to be sitting in on some of the conversations."[8] Socially, life was stimulating, and Len participated in a range of activities that broadened his outlook, not the least of which was the opportunity to meet academics of other persuasions. He was, he thought, only here for a temporary break in his New Zealand legal career, and would make the most of it.

His recollections show, in retrospect, just how much value a college-based postgraduate tenure had to offer in the 1950s, when many fields of academic research were rapidly expanding. "I didn't get much involved in team sports, though I did play a bit of tennis and saw quite a bit of England with an Irish friend on a borrowed racing bike. Plenty of social activities, music, theatre etc to an extent that I'd never known in NZ. But the aspect of college life which I enjoyed most was the company of my fellow graduate students, particularly the scientists. It was a period when the traditional barriers between the branches of science were breaking away – e.g. biology and physics gave birth to biophysics, and electron microscopy was being used by physical and biological scientists alike. There was an almost feverish exchange of ideas between the research students in different fields, picking each other's brains and swapping theories. (Not far away, Crick and Watson were doing this at the same time at a somewhat higher level.) I went with astronomers to their observatories, watched physiologists put insects through their paces in wind tunnels – I even had the keys of the Cavendish Laboratory for a fortnight once, checking an experiment while a friend went off on honeymoon. I have since witnessed the same exchanges between my colleagues at high table, but somehow it is those early years that stick in the memory. I should say also that I enjoyed almost as much sharing many of these students' leisure interests: shared a flat with a jazz enthusiast, travelled for two months in Europe with an Australian looking at cathedrals and galleries, helped another researching the architecture and archaeology of medieval manor houses".

In strong contrast, on his research project Len was in for shock at his reception from Professor Wade. "Astonishingly, Emlyn Wade was quite discouraging about my plan to study administrative law. My fellow-countryman Robin Cooke[9] had just finished his thesis on certiorari and in Wade's view, Robin had "sucked the subject dry" and there was no future in studying [it] further! So after abortive attempts to find possibilities in planning law, I decided to fall back on my second interest, company law[10]. This had not at that time been recognised as a subject fit for academic study, but Bill Wedderburn[11] had just begun teaching a course on the Law of Corporations for the (graduate) LLB." Crucially, the "subject [was] just getting off the ground as an academic subject, thanks largely to the publication by Professor Gower of London of the first edition of his book ‘Modern Company Law'[12], which set the standard for the subject....right through his lifetime and it's still going as a leading text book."[13]

Despite this bumpy start, and under the guidance of Wedderburn, Len recalls that his decision to study company law was one "I've never regretted". Initially, it took a while for his research to take shape, but after immersing himself in a wide range of reading on the history of trading corporations, going back to the 17th century (e.g. East India and Hudson Bay companies[14]), Len realised that "between the Bubble Act in 1720[15] and the first Companies Act in 1844....the commercial law associated with developments left very little in the way of official records." He discovered that during this period "the business world had had recourse to the law of partnership, and resourceful equity lawyers had established models for financing and running commercial enterprises without recourse to the courts (which avoided the risk of incurring the heavy penalties that might result from running foul of the Bubble Act). It was through this period that the seeds of company law as we know it were sown...[but] it was an area where legal scholarship had hardly ventured."

This led Len to his pioneering work on fiduciary relationships in the management of companies[16], and opened the way, over a decade later, for Paul Finn[17], whom Len supervised for a year, to "give the topic...a lot more academic attention...[and write] the leading text book[18]. [T]he subject was taken up quite enthusiastically by Australian judges on the strength of that book, and it's gradually spread throughout the Commonwealth and many more Ph.Ds have been written since my time."[19]

At this point, Len Sealy returned to New Zealand and took up legal practice once more, this time in Hamilton, where he appeared in cases before magistrates and judges. He was busy, but company law did not figure in his work load: instead, there was everything from traffic offences to serious civil cases, with much accident work from both factory and motor cases. However, "only rarely was there reason to open a text-book or law report… but I did learn a lot of practical truths, e.g. that both judges and juries don't necessarily come up with the answer which the law would suggest - sometimes for a good reason and sometimes for a bad one." Most of these cases were before juries, and in retrospect, Len felt that this experience of law at the coal face, "did a lot for my street-cred when it came to supervising students" later in his career.

Such legal work was the post-doctoral life Professor Sealy had anticipated, and he assumed that after a time of cutting "his teeth in the rough and tumble of the courts" he would eventually end up "sitting at a desk as a commercial lawyer" in New Zealand. But two factors contrived to overturn his plans. Firstly "a relationship with Beryl [his future wife], which had begun in my final year at Cambridge [had become] stronger through long-range correspondence" and secondly, there arrived a cable from Gonville and Caius offering a four year research fellowship on his winning the Yorke Prize for his PhD thesis.

Len decided to return to Cambridge, but before he did so, further correspondence from the Faculty offered an assistant lectureship, subject to an interview when he arrived. As Len pointed out, this procedure "would not be thought acceptable nowadays - the post had not been advertised and I had not even been invited to apply for it: it was more a case of "Does anyone know of a good chap?" Even the interview on arrival "nothing more than perfunctory". This turn of events completely altered the trajectory of Professor Sealy's career, and he has remained with the college ever since - an unbroken association of 55 years.

Return to Cambridge: teaching, college duties and personalities

Len Sealy returned to Cambridge in 1959 as an Assistant Lecturer, with no need to take up his research fellowship at Caius. This was normally a probationary position for a maximum of five years, but "in practice, almost everyone got a lectureship before that period was out. I think I did after one and a half or two years. Then, having got a lectureship, many of my contemporaries.....regarded it as the career appointment, [with] little expectation of moving on to a readership or a chair. There were very few chairs and mostly in special topics like Roman Law and International Law and so on. So, like Michael Prichard[20], John Thornely[21] and Mickey Dias[22] and all my contemporaries, one thought we'd arrived."[23]

Professor Sealy's memories of the Faculty in the late 50s to early 60s are of a small community still regrouping a decade after the war. He remembered that "there were only 5 professorships, three in specific areas, and ad hominem appointments were very rare. Doctorates, too, were a rarity – few of us had PhDs, and those with LLDs were a very tight group, not at all keen to let others in!"

When asked about the difference in roles of assistant and full lectureships, Professor Sealy recalled that "an assistant lecturer had a notional load of 32 lectures as against 40 for a lecturer, but not much notice was taken of that. A good half of the courses in the Tripos were designated introductory, and I was put to start on "Historical Introduction to the English Legal System" and "Introduction to Contract and Tort". He was soon given Contract, Tort and some commercial sections of the LLB to teach, and when Bill Wedderburn replaced Sir Otto Kahn-Freund as Cassell Professor of Commercial Law at LSE in 1964, Len had company law all to himself.

Comparing the situation to modern times, Len does not think "that the courses [then] were all that difficult: today's subjects are all substantive and nothing is "introductory", they are more challenging in themselves and taught and examined at a much more demanding level." However, although lectures were not that arduous "most of us did a lot of supervisions, going well into the evenings" This was a result of the hours being "very strange because lectures were in the mornings. The whole of the afternoon had to be left free so they could play sport, and then between 5 and 8 o'clock most of the supervisions were given, topped up by a lot of supervisions on a Friday night and Saturday mornings by young barristers, fledgling barristers, coming out to top up their earnings."

The latter were the Weekenders, and when I asked Professor Sealy's opinion of their effectiveness in making up for the deficiencies in numbers in the teaching staff, as the student population burgeoned in the 1950s, he said. "I never was on the receiving end of a supervision from a weekender. I think on the whole they were people on the way up and many have ended as quite senior barristers or judges. They would have brought enough of a wider interest in the subject to have got the topic across well to the students. I think they were probably on the whole quite lively personalities, not all that bookish and retiring. It was just a new dimension to their lives and I think that would explain why they were lively people. I don't really believe that the content of the Tripos in those days was as demanding as it's become now. The law was less complex, students were on the whole less bright, or rather they ranged from the very bright to the less bright and so supervisions could take quite a number of levels depending on what students wanted and what the supervisor could give. And the best of them coming from practice, where he could talk with authority of what goes on in practice. There must have been some as good as anything they'd get. [But] there may have been some fairly mundane, plodding ones, but I don't know.... Going back to my time as a student in New Zealand, we were taught a lot of the time by practitioners, some of whom were very able and conscientious, [but] some of whom were extremely lazy."[24]

For the historical record, it was very instructive to hear Professor Sealy's comments on the courses in the early 60s. "[T]he content of the subjects is much more demanding now. [In those days students did] Roman Law for one year and sometimes I think for two years...they [also] did the historical introduction to the English legal system, the historical introduction to Contract and Tort, historical introduction to Constitutional Law, [and] historical introduction to Property Law. In the first year they didn't study any real law at all. They were all paving the way for later courses. That meant that at the further end of the Tripos, there was no Company Law, no Trusts, no Equity, no Tax Law - all the subjects they do now."[25]

The result is that [now] there's much more content, right from the start. They learn the law of Contract, the law of Tort and so on, Criminal Law, to its full extent and depth right from the start, so it's that that's changed rather than teaching techniques. Obviously the size of classes has grown, so you've got bigger classes, but you've got audio-visual aids. Even duplicated hand-outs weren't common in my day......We offered courses in Roman-Dutch law and Scots law, which were really only a gloss on what they were learning in English Law. So, a person going to practice law in Scotland could do English Contract and English Tort and then Scottish Contract and Scottish Delict - not getting a very wide coverage of law at all."

Also the "the exam questions weren't as hard - they weren't as open-ended. A student could learn what [he] was expected to know....and he'd get a safe second. It was only the really keen ones who read more widely and shone at the top, whereas it's very hard to get an unkeen student these days. They're all after a 2:1, at least, if they can get it. and they're very conscientious about it. I think the supervisions reflect that, they set more essays." [26]

I suggested that the teaching was now more professional, and Professor Sealy agreed - "the very fact that we have research assessments and so on means that the teachers are on the ball all the time. There are no sinecures left - [we were not] asked, and didn't seek, to do any more than put the basics across to the student in an assimilable way and make sure they understood them - that was 1950s and 1960s teaching."[27]

The move to a more modern outlook was begun by Glanville Williams[28] - "he was very much a pioneer in enlarging the Tripos syllabus. I remember we had great votes as to what subjects should be in which years, which new subjects should come in at the top, and what elementary subjects should go out, at the bottom. And Glanville also was a great pioneer of teaching methods, which the students didn't like because this involved him asking them questions and expecting them to have read the subject up before the lecture. He'd done [this] in the States and thought it a great way of learning, but it was not a subject which 1960s English students took to at all."[29]

Moves towards introducing such a US system to Cambridge had also be made by Professor Bob Hepple, influenced by Sir John Smith[30] at Nottingham University. Also an admirer of Glanville Williams[31], Sir Bob had tried it when he returned to Clare College in 1974, but it failed again because of the clash of teaching cultures. I mentioned this to Professor Sealy, and he said that the main evolution in teaching at Cambridge during his career had been in content, not in techniques.

Len Sealy spent the years 1961 to 1991 as a lecturer, with, in comparison to today, relatively heavy teaching and lecturing commitments, at least in terms of hours. He also undertook the duties of Tutor (1961-70) and Senior Tutor and Admissions Officer (1970-75) at Gonville & Caius, and I asked him to put on record what this entailed in the 60s and 70s. Firstly, he pointed out that "a college tutorship had no real connection with tuition. It is what Oxford called a moral tutorship, though it had little to do with morals either. "[In] most colleges [tutors were] a don in a different subject [to the student to whom they were allocated. He] was there to look after the general welfare of the student and do any of the paperwork, writing references and so on, or sorting out problems over grants. If the student was ill, you saw that he was looked after by a doctor or hospital... If he ran into trouble with the law, you would have to arrange for him to be represented in the court case or whatever it was. It was also almost a parental relationship, because we would go to their parties and they would come to our parties. We, as matter of course, had them home to lunch or dinner with the family, and the links that were established by that relationship in many cases persisted right until today....students come back and don't seem to forget the relationship that they had with the tutor and the college years and years after....[T]he whole idea was that a student would have at least two shoulders to cry on[32], as well as the Chaplain or the Dean if he needed to make a complaint or a protest or found himself in trouble. "Himself" - there were no girls in those days!" [33]. Len was effectively in loco parentis to sixty or seventy students.

His role changed in 1970 when he became Caius's Senior Tutor, and with the increase in workload, Len felt the need to cut back his supervisions to six hours a week. He recalled that the Senior Tutor "organised the whole of the academic side of college affairs, and it was his job to see that there were supervisors, they were to cope with all the subjects, recruiting someone from outside, if necessary. [Also the Senior Tutor] followed up on exam results [to decide] which students should be elected to scholarships... On top of that, he was responsible for discipline, so that if students were in trouble or in breach of college was the Tutor and the Senior Tutor's job between them to see that it was sorted out. Len also represented the college on inter-collegiate committees, and had a small administrative staff to help him.

"Admissions Tutor, in those days, was much less onerous than it is now because we had an entrance examination, on which we awarded scholarships and most of the places were also awarded...[With] borderline candidates you had a little more discretion and could look, for instance, for people likely to make a contribution to other aspects of college life, apart from passing exams - people with musical talents or sporting talents or potential political careers. People with special interests could sometimes get in on the strength of interviews, having performed just adequately - but not spectacularly - in the entrance exam."[34]

Len pointed out how in recent times the situation has changed dramatically. With modern pressures to recruit from a wider range of schools than had been traditional, "..the Admissions Tutor [now] has to go out to the highways and byways looking for other schools to persuade them to start thinking of sending students to Cambridge. That takes a lot of time." The result of the increase in bureaucracy and paperwork is that nowadays, many colleges have full time Senior Tutors and Admissions Tutors. As he summed it up: today "the idea that anyone might hold both offices at once, with a full lecturing load and supervisions, as I and David Williams[35] and others did in the 70s, would be unthinkable.".

It was only in 1968, while he was Tutor at Gonville & Caius, that Len Sealy finally decided where his long-term career lay. During that year he spent six months on sabbatical at the Australian National University "it was a great break. The Institute of Advanced Legal Studies at Canberra was separate from the Law Faculty and [I] had no teaching responsibilities… so it was pure research, apart from some in-house seminars and I was not given any brief as to what I was to do there; it was up to me to find my own way of using the time. I was invited by Professor Sam Stoljar[36] who, like Kurt Lipstein[37], was a refugee from pre-war Germany." Up until then, Len and his wife had kept the choice of a career between practice in NZ or teaching at Cambridge open, but they were forced to face up to a decision when ANU offered Len a job at the end of his sabbatical. Only then did they decide that their future would be in Cambridge, where they had a house and their children were established at school. The ANU watershed was auspicious in other ways, as it was there that Len began work on two of his most prestigious books - Benjamin on Sale[38] and Cases and Materials in Company Law[39].

During the next 24 years that Len remained a lecturer, he produced a further three books[40], all of which remained in print, going in numerous editions, well into the 21st century. He told me that when he retired in 1998, he had seven texts in print - a testament to the explosive growth in corporate and commercial law in an ever more globalised economy, and to the rigour with which Professor Sealy constantly updates his work to keep pace with the floods of legislation and regulations that flow from individual states and particularly the EU.

The Faculty

For most of the 20th century, the Faculty and Squire Law Library occupied various premises in the Old Schools complex adjacent to Senate Passage, sandwiched between King's, Clare and Gonville & Caius colleges in the centre of town[41]. When Len first arrived at Cambridge, the Faculty had rooms in buildings around the Cobble Court, with lectures given in what had been the School of Canon Law (room 4) and the School of Civil Law (room 3)[42], while the Squire Law Library was on the first floor of the Cockerell Building. It was in the latter that Dr Kurt Lipstein and Whewell Professor, Hersch Lauterpacht[43] had tiny rooms 5 and 6, respectively. The social heart of the Faculty was a small tea room (Lecturer's Combination Room) in the south wing of Cobble Court.

During the course of Len's career, the University Administration gradually took these premises over "sometimes by negotiation, sometimes behind our backs", so that by the time Len became Faculty Chairman in 1988 "we had been squeezed out of the Old Schools altogether, apart from the use of the East Room"[44] - which was "very poor acoustically - you had to shout". The Faculty was spread "over six different sites...[resulting in].... a lot of difficulty both for us and the students having to get from one classroom to another in the ten minutes, especially if a lecturer overran for a few minutes"[45], while the Faculty was administered from a "couple of little rooms we had in Mill Lane for the Secretary and Chairman". This was an untenable situation, and Len became "much involved in lobbying "the powers that be" into acknowledging the need for a new faculty building, and then in getting the site...".

Having been persuaded (partly because Administration now wished to stay in town) the University's first scheme was for the Faculty "..going out to the Barton Road Rifle Range site, which was way out of town, and [they] drew up plans for a building which in many respects was going to be isolated and self-standing, although they wouldn't buy the idea that it should have any catering facilities...which would have been daft..."[46]. Len says he remembers "speaking in the Senate House and pointing out that the University would need to provide some form of catering...because the site was so far from all the colleges and there were no shops or eating places in the locality".

Eventually "the Rifle Range site had to be abandoned - I seem to remember that there was some problem with the sewage" , and a "breakthrough came about because Caius agreed to swap some land which it owned adjoining the Sidgwick Site for parts of the Cockerell Building that had been occupied by the Squire." Len explained that "there was no outright swap of freeholds, but instead each granted the other 350-year leases." Len was wearing two hats, and he records "...a considerable amount of cash going from us [Caius] to the University, but we did get the very lovely building that the old Squire had been in, which now houses our library and all our computer labs and so on for the students. Caius is very lucky because there wouldn't ever be another chance to get new premises in the centre of town near to Caius....[also] I think the Law Faculty has done very well out of moving [to the new, Sidgwick site]"[47].

This was a seminal moment in the history of the Faculty and it is worth quoting extensively from Professor Sealy's notes to supplement the interview on the subject for posterity. Len was drafted onto a "committee ...chaired by Dr Kate Pretty to choose an architect, and seven firms were invited to submit plans, which was intended to be for a building to be shared by Law and Criminology. There was a maple tree in the middle of the site which posed a major problem. Three of the firms said that the site wasn't big enough to meet all the specified needs unless the tree came down, and this probably cost them votes". In the end, Sir Norman Foster was chose. As Len explained, the University took "into account the funding and other things", and reckoned Foster a "better deal....he had a known reputation for finishing jobs on time and on budget and I expect that was a consideration. I wasn't party to the University's deliberations, but it would be interesting to know what sort of a building we'd have if we hadn't had Foster, because I think he is a great architect..."[48].

"Foster's plan proposed two buildings set at right angles, one (where Law now is) and a second with a matching angled side for Criminology to the north. Law was built first and, as it turned out, the second was never built. Instead a different firm's plan for Criminology was chosen and built on a different part of the Sidgwick site. Under Foster's plan, the maple tree was spared, but it died anyway within a year or two!".

Professor Sealy identified with Sir Norman himself, and his modus operandi. "It was a great privilege for me to have had so close an involvement with Norman Foster and his team for a large part of the time that the building was constructed. I understand that he spent just a week-end settling on the "vision" of the building he would like to put up, and he sketched it then and there and stuck to his vision right through the project.....Throughout the project, he always was willing to consider new ideas and to listen to problems over which we had concerns. For instance, as originally planned, the lecture rooms in the basement were to have columns supporting the floors above, so blocking the view from some seats. He changed the whole plan so as to suspend the upper floors from above, with the big sloping beams along the north side taking the weight.

More often than not, when he came up with a modification the result was not only better all round, but sometimes saved cost as well. Again, the plans as originally drawn had rectangular glass panels, and they would have been in (I think) 26 shapes and sizes, but when it was tweaked on a computer it was found that by making the one outer wall slightly curved instead of straight, and switching to triangular panels, it would need only two sizes - triangles and half-triangles. This made huge savings in manufacturing cost, and the diagonal joins also doubled as storm-water channels, a feature he has since used in the Gherkin[49]."

Professor Sealy took great interest as the building arose: "my wife and I used to put our hard hats on and would walk the site every month or so, which was great fun for her because she's interested in buildings". Nevertheless, Len concedes that "the building got a bad press when we moved in [1995], largely undeserved in my opinion....admittedly there was a noise problem which was only resolved when we put up the vertical partition separating the library from the public spaces, but....this was because he was let down by his acoustic consultant.." Also, he observed that "I'm told there is very little provision for storage, and broom-cupboards etc - the open plan approach doesn't allow many nooks and crannies...[so] we have had to add some clutter later". Len's overall impression of the futuristic building is "I think nowadays users generally think it is a pretty good place to work in, as I certainly do."

The complex translocation of the Faculty from its scattered, partly mediaeval quarters to a centralised home occurred during the Chairmanship of three professors - Sealy (1988-90), John Baker (1990-92) and the late John Tiley[50] (1992-95), each playing important roles in the progress of the undertaking. Len's part was unique, however, in his having a foot in both the Caius and Faculty camps, and providing the crucial link between conception and delivery in the project to gather the disparate entities of the 70s Faculty and Library under one futuristic roof, for the first time in its history. It is a testament to his determination and administrative skills, and it seems fitting that during this lengthy saga, Len was installed as the inaugural SJ Berwin Professor of Corporate Law in 1991[51], a position he held until retirement in 1997. Len's role in the creation of the Foster building is one of his great legacies to the Faculty, along with his pioneering researches into company law.

Professor Sealy explained how it took until 1991 for the University to create a chair in corporate law, and that it came about through the philanthropy of city solicitors. He also recalled an amusing anecdote associated with his taking it up. "Stanley Berwin[52] was a very successful London solicitor who first founded the firm of...Berwin Leighton[53], being the senior partner and founder.... After some years heading that firm, he went off to work in the City and then gave that up and went back to the law and he founded a second legal firm, S J Berwin and Co[54]. They're both among the top legal firms in London to this day. He was a workaholic and reputedly lived on black coffee and was a chain smoker and died in his 60s. The clients, mainly, I think, of his second firm, raised money to have an academic post established in his memory. I believe they raised enough money for two chairs and chose Cambridge to be the place where these chairs were. One of them has his name, S. J. Berwin and the other is an innominate chair...that's in what high esteem he was held.

I had a rather daunting inaugural lecture to deliver because as well as the members of the Faculty....the lawyers from Berwins came up, Mr Berwin's widow and son and daughter in law, and his brother and my own kids and their girlfriends came....[B]y curious coincidence, I discovered that one of my suits had the label Berwin on the inside of it, so I challenged the partners of Berwins in London about this and they said, "Oh, yes, it was a well-established clothing firm based in Leeds and it's still going strong under the directorship of Stanley's brother." Well, I put this suit on, had it specially dry-cleaned for the inaugural lecture and when I was introduced to the brother, he took the coat by the lapels and said something like "1958, I think", and he was chuffed to realise that I'd got the suit out. He said no more, but a week later a suit arrived in the post which fitted me exactly."[55]

In the Introduction to the festschrift marking Professor Sealy's retirement in 1998[56], Professor Barry Rider[57] lists the qualities that epitomise Len's relationships with Faculty and college friends and colleagues. Listeners to the interviews will also find them captured therein: humanity, humility, informality, sensitivity, conviviality , and sense of humour, and it was a pleasure to have conducted them. Rider attributes Len's popularity amongst his peers and students to these traits, and during the interviews, Len's recollections of personalities from his time at Cambridge invariably are generous in their praise for assistance rendered and/or in highlighting others' strengths and achievements. It would be invidious to elaborate on just a few, but readers/listeners will find details of interest relating, inter alia, to the following over a ~9 page section in the transcript of the first interview: Professor Emlyn Wade (1895-1978), Dr Ellis Lewis (1900-1978), Lord McNair (1885-1976), Professor Glanville Williams (1911-1997), John Thornely (19xx-2000), Mr Michael Prichard (b. 1927), Professor Tony Jolowicz (1926-2011), Henry Barnes (xxx-xxx), Professor Clive Parry (1917-1982), Professor Kurt Lipstein (1909-2006), Professor David Williams (1930-2009), Professor Philip Allott (b. 1937), Professor Bill Cornish (b. 1937), and Tony Weir (1936-2011).

Professor Sealy prides himself on his broad-based approach to company and commercial law, and cites his pioneering work with fiduciary matters in his PhD as an example of the great challenge of corporate law. "I've never been a one-subject man...I have been in an area where subjects coalesce and conflict". "I think the only subject that probably has a bigger academic challenge is conflict of laws....that does call for huge intellectual perseverance". Over his long career this "don of the old school", as Professor Rider refers to him, has brought his subject far along the road of high regard.


Lesley Dingle - Acquisition and Creation of Content

Daniel Bates -  Visual Presentation, Technical Enhancement and Audio Editing

[1] Direct quotes from the oral records are “in italics”, while citations from Professor Sealy’s notes are “in quotes”.

[2] 24th May, 1941.

[3] Professor Arthur Geoffrey Davis,  (1899-1966), Dean of Auckland Law School. The Davis Law Library at Auckland is named after him.

[4] Professor John Frederick (“Jack”) Northey  (1920 - 1983). Professor of Public Law, Dean of the Faculty of Law. He was previously Assistant Secretary of the Cabinet.

[5] Professor Edward Musgrave Blaiklock (1903–1983), Professor of Classics, Auckland University 1947-1968.

[6] Who became a good friend of Len’s at Cambridge. T. Ellis Lewis (1900-1978), Librarian, Squire Law Library 1931-1968.

[7] Professor Emlyn Capel Stewart Wade (1895-1978), Downing Professor of the Laws of England 1945-62. His speciality was constitutional law.

[8] Q14 & Q15

[9] Sir Robin Brunskill Cooke  (1926-2006), Baron Cooke of Thorndon P.C., Judge of the Court of Appeal, New Zealand (1976-96).

[10] With which he had become involved during his practice work in New Zealand.

[11] Kenneth William Wedderburn, (1927-2012). Baron Wedderburn of Charlton, Labour politician, lecturer in law at Cambridge, later Cassel Professor of Commercial Law, LSE 1964-2012.

[12] Laurence Cecil Bartlett Gower, (1913-1997) MBE, Cassel Professor of Commercial Law, LSE. 1st Ed 1954, L. C. B. Gower, The Principles of Modern Company Law, Stevens & Son, London 599pp.

[13] Q13.

[14] Royal charters in 1600 and 1670, respectively.

[15] (6 Geo I, c 18), Act of the Parliament forbidding all joint-stock companies not authorised by royal charter.

[16] His 1958 PhD was entitled  Fiduciary Obligations in the Management and Promotion of Companies, University of Cambridge, 374pp.

[17]  Professor Justice Paul Finn (b. 1946 ), Judge of the Federal Court of Australia, 1995-present, Goodhart Professor 2010-11, Professor & Head, Department of Law, Australian National University 1988-1995.

[18]  Fiduciary Obligations, Law Book Co, Sydney, 1978.

[19] Q23

[20] Michael Prichard (1927 - ), Lecturer in Law 1953-1995. Gonville & Caius.

[21] J. W. A. Thornely, (19xx-2000)

[22] Reginald Walter Michael (Mickey) Dias (1921-2009), Lecturer in Law (Jurisprudence & Tort) 1951-1986. Magdalene College

[23] Q26

[24] Q81

[25] Q85

[26] Q85

[27] Q86

[28] Glanville Llewelyn Williams, (1911- 1997), Quain Professor of Jurisprudence University College London, 1945 - 55, lecturer at Cambridge 1955-68, Rouse Ball Professor of English Law 1968 - 78,

[29] Q86

[30] (1922-2003). Read law at Downing College 1947. Professor of Law, University of Nottingham 1957-87.

[31] According to Sir Bob, Williams had a lecture room specially designed for the method - see Q112 in Hepple’s interviews.

[32] The other would be the Director of Studies, who was the mentor for the student’s chosen subject.

[33] Q31 & Q33

[34] Q32

[35] Sir David Glyndwr Tudor Williams (1930-2009),  Rouse Ball Professor of English Law 1983-92, President of Wolfson College 1980-92, Vice-Chancellor, Cambridge University 1989-96.

[36] Samuel (Sam) J. Stoljar  (?–1990). 1975, A History of Contract at Common Law, ANU Press, 220pp

[37] (1909-2006), Professor of Comparative Law 1973-76.

[38] Benjamin's Sale of Goods, 2006 7th Edit. A.G. Guest,  C.J. Miller,  D. Harris, G.H. Treitel, E.P. Ellinger, C.G.J. Morse, E. Lomnicka, L.S. Sealy, F. M.B. Reynolds. Sweet & Maxwell, 2720 pp.

[39] 1st ed CUP.  9th edn 2010 (by Professor Sarah Worthington).

[40] 1984. Company Law and Commercial Reality (Sweet & Maxwell, London 1986);  1986. Disqualification and Personal Liability of Directors, (Bicester, CCH 1987), 5th edn 2000; 1987. Annotated Guide to the Insolvency Legislation (with Professor David Milman), 16th edn 2013 (and now also on-line and updated weekly).

[41] The library relocated from its original Downing Street site in 1935.

[42] On a false premise, the Faculty relinquished the old School of Civil Law (Room 3), with its grand Regius Professor’s throne, and solid oak lecture benches that had been put in before WWII. Despite the promise of this being a "temporary" arrangement, Room 3 was lost forever and the Administration installed computer rooms and staff in 1968.

[43] Professor Sir Hersch Lauterpacht (1897-1960). Whewell Professor of International Law, 1938-55,  Judge at International Court of Justice 1954-60.

[44] This was compensation for Room 4, but it was severely damaged during the 1968 student sitins, and never repaired adequately.

[45] Q88

[46] Q88

[47] Q88

[48] Q88

[49] A skyscraper at 30 St Mary Axe, City of London. Completed December 2003

[50]  1941-2013. Professor Tiley, Emeritus Professor of Tax Law played an important role in fund-raising for the new building, and was Chairman during the move in xxx 1995, when he showed HRH The Duke of Edinburgh the new building.

[51] A fact remarked upon by Rider in his introduction (at page xviii) of  B. A. K. Rider, (Ed) 1988. The Realm of Company Law: A Collection of Papers in Honour of Professor Leonard Sealy, SJ Berwin Professor of Corporate Law at the University of Cambridge. Kluwer Law International, London He intimates that company law was somewhat shunned by the University, which accounts for the inordinate time it took for a chair, recognising its importance.

[52] (1926 -1988)



[55] Q35

[56] See En 46,  p. xviii.

[57] (b. 1952-) Centre for Development Studies, University of Cambridge (2004-), Director of Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, London (1995-2004).