Peter Shaw

BSc 1989, LLB (Hons) 1991, MBA 2005 (AGSM)

Peter is the partner-in-charge of the Sydney office of commercial law firm Maddocks and also heads the Sydney Commercial team. In 2012, Peter became one of the Law representatives on the University of Sydney Alumni Council.

What made you decide to study law, and why did you choose Sydney Law School?

A combined Science/Law degree was actually my second choice behind medicine. However my preference was always Sydney University as my father had both studied there and, at the time I enrolled in Science/Law, was a professor in the Faculty of Medicine. Over time my 3 sisters have also graduated from the University of Sydney, so there is a very strong family link to the University.

Where has the study of law taken you in your career and/or life in general?

There has been an element of 'falling into things' in my studies and in the early part of my career. I fell into Science Law at university; I completed both degrees as it seemed like a good idea at the time; I worked as a tipstaff in the Land & Environment Court (Hemmings J) for 6 months then on his return to practice, in the NSW Supreme Court with Acting Justices Bruce and Palmer (now Palmer J) for 4 months and I was then fortuitous enough to spend two months working with Justice Clarke in the NSW Court of Appeal when the Bench included Kirby P, Meagher JA, Handley JA, Hope AJA, Priestly JA and Mahoney JA and of course Gleeson CJ was Chief Justice. A wonderful 12 month exposure to some extraordinary legal minds!

Following that experience, I had proposed to practice as a litigator and then to go to the Bar and to also undertake a Masters in the UK. However due to family illness I fell into a junior litigation solicitor role at Clayton Utz at the beginning of 1993 (in the depths of the early 90s recession). From there I was press-ganged into a corporate rotation at Clayton Utz just as the commercial team acted for the NSW State Government on the granting of the first exclusive casino licence (now Star City). At that point I realised I had found my home in the law and have practiced as a corporate lawyer ever since.

Following the usual career trajectory of a solicitor in a city law firm, I was made a senior associate after 4 years and then a partner after 8. I then thought I might undertake an MBA to assist with understanding how to carry out the practice of being a principal in a law firm as opposed to the practice of law. My choice was the AGSM which at that stage was a combined school of the University of Sydney and New South Wales. That has inexorably led me into more management and leadership roles first at Clayton Utz and then in more recent years at Maddocks where I have now been the partner-in-charge of the Sydney office for 4 years as well as the head of the Sydney corporate team for nearly 5 years.

What is your fondest memory of your time at Sydney Law School?

Sydney University Law School (Phillip Street) and the undertaking of studies on Campus prior to that, brings back good and bad memories. In my first few years studying both Science and Law, the principal issue was always the clash of lectures between two Faculties which did not communicate well at the time. Memorably a good friend of mine noted at the end of third year that in the first year we had clashes of subjects and were worried by them and by third year we were planning them! There was a great trade in legible handwritten notes from those who had actually managed (or in later years chosen) to attend lectures on campus.

Law School at Phillip Street was of course a depressing physical environment but a stimulating intellectual environment. I have good memories of being taught by an extraordinary range of gifted and intellectually able people - more than one of them also being slightly eccentric. Dave Fraser lecturing in criminal law was an experience and Alex Ziegert's jurisprudence lectures could often head off at a tangent at the one hour break, never to return to the subject before the end of the second hour. I have a great recollection of a good friend of mine causing Robert Stein to finish a Real Property lecture early because when asking my friend what appeared to be troubling him mid-lecture, his answer was that he was perturbed by the failure of his team, Cronulla, to win on the weekend.

I also had the great privilege of being involved in the band formed for the Law Revue in a couple of successive years (playing saxophone only moderately well), which afforded me the opportunity to play with some great musicians and to observe at close quarters some terrific actors – none of whom should have been lawyers at all – and many of whom have long since given up the practice of law to do other things.

Mostly of course it was great fun and none of us, bar the very few focussed individuals (some of whom are now Federal Court judges and SCs), really had any idea of what awaited us in the commercial legal world outside.

What one piece of advice would you give to law students today?

Don't narrow your options too early. The only certainty is the one thing you have your heart set on doing is the probably the one thing you either won't do or you will work out that you dislike doing. The likelihood is that thing you have enjoyed or understood least at Law School will be the very thing that you find is the most enjoyable part of the practice of law.

Grab every opportunity that comes your way with both hands and run with it but do remember to do the work at the same time. You won't know everything when you walk out of Law School (and no one expects you to) but you need to have the building blocks in place to be effective in the workplace.

Excerpt from Blackacre 1990:

Excerpt from Blackacre 1990