PROF. J. YEATS
The next female legal academic we will be featuring in our 100More series honouring female academics who have made a significant contribution to legal academia, and beyond is Professor Jacqueline Yeats.
Briefly describe your journey to becoming a law teacher;
After graduating from the University of Stellenbosch I practised as a commercial attorney at a large corporate law firm before joining the Law Faculty at UCT in 2005. However, I think I have always been an academic and a law teacher at heart. I worked part-time as a teaching assistant while completing my LLM, and it was the challenge and the satisfaction of conducting undergraduate law tutorials that first ignited my interest in teaching. Although I enjoyed the challenge and pace of legal practice, academia has afforded me the space to choose how to apply my legal focus as well as the freedom to research and teach in those areas which really interest me. It has the added bonus of daily interaction with people (both students and colleagues) who have enquiring minds and the desire to make a difference in our society. I feel enormously privileged to work in such an environment.
Describe a highlight and your most significant contribution to legal academia
A definite career highlight was receiving the Distinguished Teacher award at UCT. It is one of my proudest achievements to be regarded as a committed, creative and effective teacher. From a research perspective completing my PhD was also a big personal milestone. Undertaking a PhD at any time is a challenge, but I was juggling my teaching, research and writing with raising our four young children and therefore I am very proud of this particular achievement. The topic I chose to research was an unfamiliar concept at the time, and subsequently it has been immensely satisfying to see some of my research being used in the courts to influence our law. I was also humbled and honoured to be asked to take over as Managing Editor and to co-author Blackman’s Commentary on the Companies Act some years ago. This is an important and influential work in South African company law and academia and I take my responsibility as its custodian very seriously. Another career highlight was my role, as co-founder and director, of the Corporate Law and Governance Unit at UCT which is set to undertake some exciting research and teaching initiatives.
Do you have some inspiring words for emerging law teachers?
Do not underestimate the impact you have on both the academic and personal development of your students. I believe that students learn best when they are engaged, and they are best able to engage when they feel comfortable (but not complacent!) in the classroom. Try to cultivate a classroom culture that promotes innovation, collaboration, and mutual respect and you will create a space where your students can achieve their full personal and academic potential. Remember to enjoy your work and have some fun too, and do not despair when your best laid plans go awry - just do the next thing on your list as well as you can. Finally, always be yourself and do not fall into the comparison trap. Every person brings their own strengths and skills to the table and therefore everyone’s career journey is unique.