In business: Q&A with The University of Law Alumnus – Steve Shaw

The University of Law alumnus Steve Shaw, head of communications for technology, safety and legal at BP, talks to The University of Law about how his legal studies here have helped shape his career.

Why did you choose to study law?

I started studying law at A Level. I found it an interesting and challenging subject, requiring attention to detail and an enquiring mind. I still remember some of the case names we found amusing – Hirachand Punamchand v Temple was a firm favourite…

What was studying the LPC like in comparison to your undergraduate studies?

The teaching and learning at Chester was much more practical and hands-on than at university, with a focus on law in the workplace – from procedures and templates to advocacy and client negotiations. The written materials were clear and well structured, and the role play exercises were helpful at moving us out of our comfort zones.

Tell us a bit about your current role.

My current role is head of communications for technology, safety and legal at BP plc. I manage a team of six people and, in a nutshell, I advise BP on how to build its reputation for advanced technology and safety management.

Safety is BP’s number-one strategic priority and requires careful management of messages, issues and stakeholders. Technology is a major differentiator for BP in its ability to extend or win new business and a core theme for corporate communications. So, safety and technology-related communications keep me very busy.

I also recently expanded my role to include responsibility for communications within BP’s large legal function (c800 lawyers) – in a way, this feels like coming home to my career origins.

What advice would you pass onto current law students?

A law qualification is a great stepping stone into a wide range of careers. The skills you learn at The University of Law – from research and analysis to negotiating and client management – are highly desirable in the corporate world.

My advice is to be patient and open-minded. You are not on a conveyor belt to becoming a lawyer forever, whether you qualify as a solicitor and work in the profession for a few years or duck out early like me. You will have many choices – several of my friends at law school have now left private practice, including one who is now a neurologist…

What is the best/worst career advice you have ever been given?

The best career advice I had was from a senior executive at BP a few years ago when I was contemplating a move out of communications. He told me I was undervaluing the experience and skills I had established, and that I should build on those strong foundations – and feel good about them – rather than trying to start again.

The worst? Being advised to seek a career in advertising – the reality was that London ad agencies expected young people to work for practically nothing to gain a foothold into the industry. I really struggled with money for a few months as I learned that lesson…

How has a law qualification helped you in your career to date?

It has been immensely helpful in all of my career moves and progression. First, the very fact of having a law qualification is seen by recruiters as an impressive achievement – perhaps because it sounds like a daunting ‘clever’ subject to those outside the profession.

Second, studying law reinforced my natural preferences for detail and accuracy, and this helps enormously in working on highly technical communications for a global company.

Tell us one interesting fact about yourself that people might not know

At university, I wrote and starred in comedy sketches under the name ‘Juicy, Fruity, Fresh and Cheap’. We weren’t massively successful…