Earle K. Shawe – The Passing of a Labor Law Pioneer

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Earle K. Shawe, the founder of our firm, passed away on June 30, 2017, at age 104. Earle was present during the infancy of the modern labor law movement in the 1930s, and left his mark throughout the subsequent decades of his practice – truly a giant in the field of labor law.

Earle was a graduate of the University of Virginia Law School – an institution to which he remained devoted throughout his life. In 1996, he endowed the Earle K. Shawe Professorship in Employment Law at the school.

After his graduation from law school in 1934, Earle had a brief stint as a law clerk for a small New York firm, Halpert and Halpert. He then entered public service, first as an attorney with the Reconstruction Finance Corporation and then the National Recovery Administration. He was subsequently hired as one of the first attorneys – and the youngest – of the newly-formed National Labor Relations Board. There, as a fledgling trial lawyer, Earle represented the interests of employees of Bethlehem Steel. As described in an 1938 Fortune magazine article, “the assembled might of the great New York law firm of Cravath, de Bersdorff, Swaine & Wood — counsel, associate counsel, and assistants — found itself opposed by one skinny youth, a Virginian named Earle Shawe, looking for all the world like a high-school valedictorian.” And Earle brought them to their knees in a victory for the Bethlehem Steel employees, gaining them legitimate bargaining rights.

In 1942, at age 28, Earle became the youngest Regional Attorney in the history of the NLRB, heading up the Baltimore region. After five years in that role and litigating many high-profile cases, Earle decided to open his own firm. He initially intended to represent unions, but by chance was hired by the Baltimore Graphic Arts Association, a group of printing companies engaged in a labor dispute against the International Typographical Union. The Taft-Hartley Act, which for the first time allowed companies to file unfair labor practice charges against unions, had just been passed, and Earle, on behalf of the Association, filed – and won – the first charge under that law.

With that victory, Earle established his reputation as an aggressive, sharp, and practical management-side attorney. Many major companies against whom Earle litigated when he was a Board attorney subsequently hired him to represent them. Earle was instrumental in our firm’s development of a national practice representing management in all areas of labor relations.

Earle donated his personal papers to the University of Virginia Law School, and participated in an oral history project, which the school describes as follows: “Shawe tells a story rich in detail about the birth and development of labor law, which reveals how he influenced the field as much as it came to define his life.” The oral history may be accessed here.

While we mourn the passing of our founding partner, we celebrate his life and the example he set of excellence in the practice of law, dedication to clients, and commitment to serving the interests of management.  We remain committed to maintaining that legacy of excellence as Shawe Rosenthal enters its 70th year.