Steve Shaw is Head of Communications for Technology, Safety and Legal at BP plc. Here he shares how a qualification in law has helped him and gives some advice to law students just starting out.
Why did you choose to study law?
I started studying law at A Level - so from age 16. 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…
How did you find studying at the University of Law? The course work was purposely practical and vocational in nature - very different to the academic study at Cambridge. The written materials were clear and well structured, and the role play exercises helpful at moving us out of our comfort zones It set me up well for my training contract afterwards.
What was your first job? My first job was a part-time sales assistant at Holland & Barrett health foods, at weekends and in school holidays. I confess I never harboured any ambition of pursuing that as a career - too fond of fast food.
I think I wanted to be a zoologist at some stage - and then I thought I’d like to run an independent record store.
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 6 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 (c.800 lawyers) - in a way, this feels like coming full circle or ‘coming home’ to my career origins.
How did a law qualification help you? 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 of 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.
What advice would you pass onto students studying law? A law qualification is a great stepping stone into a wide range of business 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? Maybe, after my high street law experience, 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…
What gets you out of bed in the morning? I truly believe that energy is fundamental to human progress. There is almost no bigger issue for the world to tackle - how to provide billions of people with access to affordable energy without causing irreparable climate change. It is an exciting and grand challenge, with a myriad of different views on what needs to be done.
Tell us something not a lot of people know... At university, I wrote and starred in comedy sketches under the name ‘Juicy, Fruity, Fresh and Cheap’. We weren’t massively successful…
Find out more about our postgraduate courses