Lee C. Shaw, one of the most respected management attorneys in labor law who helped draft the nation's durable guide for employer-employee negotiations, the Taft-Hartley Act, is dead at 86. Shaw, a founding partner of the Chicago-based firm Seyfarth, Shaw, Fairweather & Geraldson, died Nov. 15 in San Diego, where he had lived in retirement.
A pioneer in forging labor law in this country, Shaw was so highly respected in the field that one major union leader, irked by the performance of his own lawyers during contract negotiations, fired them and invited Shaw to work for the union.
Joe Herman, a Los Angeles attorney who opened the Los Angeles office Shaw sought for his firm in 1973, confirmed that several major unions tried to hire Shaw because they were impressed with his work for the opposing side.
"He was a unique combination of practical intelligence, great imagination and spirit, and invaluable understanding of the role of labor unions that was unusual for a management representative," Herman said. "Union people recognized that and respected him for treating them as equals."
Influenced by the national labor strife of the 1930s, Shaw studied law at the University of Chicago and went to work for the now-defunct Chicago firm of Pope & Ballard. With the passage of the Wagner Act in 1935, the matrix of labor law, the firm had set out to create a specialty in the field.
At the time, labor negotiations were usually handled by in-house lawyers for the employers and by individual practitioners for the unions. But Shaw, during his tenure at Pope & Ballard from 1938 to 1945, helped design and build a specialty in representing corporate and management interests.
In 1945, he and two colleagues, Henry Seyfarth and Owen Fairweather, left Pope & Ballard to form their own firm, taking their clients along. They represented management in most of the major labor negotiations after World War II.
Along the way, Shaw developed such a reputation for his understanding of management and union issues, his honesty and negotiating skills that he was asked to draft the landmark postwar Taft-Hartley Act.
Credited as the visionary for his firm, Shaw personally expanded it from its Chicago base to offices in Los Angeles, Washington and New York. The firm now has offices in Boston, Atlanta, Houston, San Francisco, Sacramento and Brussels, Belgium.
The expansion was necessary, Shaw said, to serve its clients. He opened the first California office to handle growers' negotiations with Cesar Chavez's United Farm Workers.
Born in Red Wing, Minn., Shaw earned his bachelor's degree at the University of Michigan.
He is survived by his wife, Lorraine; a son, Charles; two daughters, Linda Lee Smith and Candace Peterson, and six grandchildren. A son, Robert, preceded him in death.