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Labor Law Pioneer an Eyewitness to History

by Alison White

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EARLE K. SHAWE ’34, who attended classes in both Minor Hall and Clark Hall, was a pioneer in the labor law movement. He began practicing in the 1930s, when labor law was in its infancy, as the youngest trial attorney in the legal division of the newly formed National Labor Relations Board. In one case, Shawe represented employees of Bethlehem Steel in a labor relations dispute. The case found its way into an October 1938 Fortune magazine article profiling the new, and controversial, NLRB. The article noted how the NLRB had to rely on bright, new untested lawyers, and as an example, cited a hearing where “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.”

After the passage of the Taft-Hartley Act in 1947, Shawe left the NLRB and entered private practice. He founded Shawe & Rosenthal, a Baltimore firm that for the last 61 years has represented employers nationwide in all aspects of labor and employment law. Shawe’s career led him to endow the Earle K. Shawe Professorship in Employment Law in 1996.

Shawe says he is proud to have attended the Law School at a time when it brought in talented young professors such as Leslie H. Buckler and Garrard Glenn. He recalls trying cases before U.S. Fourth Circuit Judge Armistead M. Dobie 1904, his former professor and dean. Shawe recently donated to the Virginia Arthur Morris Law Library memoranda, briefs, photographs, and news clippings about many of the cases he has handled over the years. He also participated in an oral history project now available in the Law Library’s special collections. 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.