Nick's gift

Honouring great mentors and transforming Adelaide Law School

Nick Shaw

Once a budding musician, Nick Shaw’s unplanned turn to law has taken him from Adelaide to New York and London – but he has never forgotten the teachers who inspired him and helped shape his life. 

Nick’s dad (William Shaw OAM) ran a music school, and Nick and his brothers studied music and were all “supposed to be musicians”. “Going into my last year at high school, I realised that music was never going to be my professional career. I loved it but just wasn’t going to be a top-level musician,” said Nick.

While he didn’t end up pursuing a career in music, Nick remembers his “remarkable piano teacher”, Eleonora Sivan, who had a profound effect on his life and career. “Eleonora had been a student and teacher at the Leningrad Conservatorium and settled in Adelaide in 1980,” he said. “She was completely devoted to her art, particularly the unswerving pursuit of accuracy and musical truth above all else. Being exposed to that sort of intensity at a young age made a huge impression on me and showed me early what it meant to be serious about a subject.”

At University, Nick hopped around among physics, philosophy, maths and politics before enrolling in law. Initially, he was not a huge fan of legal studies, but then when he reached the fields of property and trusts, “it all just clicked – it was a logical system and I started to explore it all in more detail.”

Nick Shaw

A Fulbright Scholar and Partner in Simpson Thacher’s London office, Nick is grateful to many mentors, especially to two of his greatest law influences, Emeritus Fellow Andrew Ligertwood (LLB (Hons) 1967) and The Honourable John Doyle AC QC (LLB (Hons) 1967).

“Andrew and John both gave a lot of time not just to me, but to generations of students and young lawyers,” he said. “When you are younger, I think you take it for granted there will be teachers or senior people who take an interest in and devote energy and time to younger people. It’s only as I’ve gotten older that I have realised how hard that is — to have the time to not just get through your own workload, but to devote time to nurturing younger lawyers, and also to avoid becoming jaded and to remain excited about ideas.”

Nick ended up working for Andrew as a research assistant. They both shared a love of music, with Andrew being a big supporter of the Adelaide music scene. “Andrew was a terrific teacher and scholar. The law of evidence is incredibly convoluted, with hundreds of different rules for special cases. He always tried to discover the underlying purpose of each rule and, ultimately, how it goes to matters of proof.

"I particularly remember the law on hearsay, which seemed confused and contradictory and hugely puzzling to any law student. Andrew identified an underlying rationale for the rule, which made all the cases line up and serve the ultimate purpose of the law.  It was almost like a magician’s trick to see it all fall into place perfectly.

“And John was just the complete hero of everyone in the Adelaide legal community. He just was so brilliant, but also such a good guy in a way that made you feel good about the world, that someone so accomplished could rise to the top of his profession and at the same time remain a modest and self-deprecating person,” said Nick.

After completing his Masters of Law and working for John Doyle (Solicitor General and then Chief Justice), Nick and his wife, Dr Miriam Hill (PhD (Psych) 1999), spent time studying at Columbia University in New York City. “Miriam and I got married at Urrbrae House a month before we headed off to the States, and so we launched off onto this new adventure hand in hand.

"I think it felt further away because things were a bit less connected then. The internet was only just ramping up, and we certainly didn’t own cell phones. I remember one cold New York day when we just arrived and stood outside to use a call box with a calling card to phone mum and dad to tell them we had arrived and were safe, so it really did feel very much like we were two kids from Adelaide on the other side of the world,” he said.

Nick Shaw

Now living in London with Miriam and their three children, Nick fondly recalls his time studying at Adelaide Law School. He had long wanted to do something that would honour both Andrew and John if an opportunity arose.

Nick recently joined with other Simpson partners in London to fund the work of the Westminster Commission on Miscarriages of Justice, a parliamentary commission chaired by Lord Garnier and Baroness Stern, which reported last year on important improvements that could be made to the UK’s justice system. These recommendations are now being examined by the Lord Chancellor, Dominic Raab.

“One of my partners, Jason Glover, instigated the effort, and in turn it made me think about whether I could help do something in South Australia. Given that evidence and procedure are areas where Andrew and John had taught at the Law School, it all came together with the idea of honouring them and supporting the Law School and research in this area,” said Nick.

Inspired by this opportunity, Nick made a major gift towards a new Chair for the Adelaide Law School in evidence and procedure. He’s hopeful his gift, which will be named in honour of both Emeritus Fellow Andrew Ligertwood and The Honourable John Doyle AC, will help the Adelaide Law School become a leader in a specialised field. 

“If you attract someone who specialises in an area and who can establish a good teaching body and potentially cross disciplinary studies, that has the potential to be transformative,” he said.

Story by Dalice Kennedy
Photos by Gabrielle Connole

Tagged in lumen Spring 2022, lumen, Profiles