Geoffrey C. Shaw

2018 Temple Bar Scholar Report

The Temple Bar Scholarship was a four-week immersive crash course in the UK legal system. It was an extraordinary experience that will always shape the way I think about the law and the courts in the UK as well as at home.

We spent the first week of the Scholarship immersed in “Legal London”—a place as well as a culture. Over the course of that week, we traversed nearly every block of the city between Temple and Holborn and eventually learned our way around the network of passages and alleyways that appear so frequently in legal lore. And along the way we met some of the barristers, solicitors and judges who bring the neighborhood to life. In fact, we had the extraordinary opportunity to meet privately with some of the most eminent figures in the legal profession in the UK—the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, the Master of the Rolls, the head of the Commercial Court, top solicitors and barristers, and several other judges serving in civil, criminal, and appellate roles.

Without exception, the British judges we met were exceptionally well versed in American law and offered searching comparative insights about their work. One afternoon we observed a murder trial at the Old Bailey and were invited to discuss the case in frank detail with the judge, who explained some of the differences between British and American criminal procedure with startling clarity. And a recurring theme of our conversations over the course of the week was access to justice and ensuring decent representation for indigent litigants, something courts struggle with in the UK as well as the US.

We also visited and dined in all four Inns of Court. During these visits, we quickly came to appreciate not only their rich history, but also their vital role in promoting collegiality and friendship among barristers today. For me, one of the major lessons of the Scholarship is the importance of institutions like the Inns and the need for lawyers of all stages in their careers to participate in them however they can.

Over the following two weeks, COMBAR organized for each of us to be placed with leading sets of commercial barristers. For both weeks, I spent most days shadowing my hosts in the Commercial Court, where they were participating in several of the highest profile trials going on in the country all year. One morning I witnessed the dramatic courtroom settlement of a major case that had been in the headlines all week. Another day I visited the International Dispute Resolution Centre and sat in on an investor-state arbitration—a truly multinational and fascinating proceeding with a great deal at stake.

Throughout, I was overwhelmed by the generosity of the barristers in chambers. They set aside many valuable hours to speak with me candidly about their cases, and they made a special effort to introduce me to their clients and colleagues at the bar and even to some of the judges and arbitrators presiding over their cases. I am deeply grateful that they were so kind as to spend this time with me.

We spent the final week of the Scholarship at the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom. Each Scholar shadowed a different member of the Court, and we sat in on all of the oral arguments taking place during our stay. Unlike the oral arguments at the US Supreme Court, which are short and can involve rapid-fire questioning from the bench, each argument we observed took up the better part of a day. Throughout the week, the Justices could not have been more welcoming or more willing to speak candidly about their work and their views of the role of the judiciary in democratic society. It was also wonderful to get to know the Judicial Assistants at the Court, who I hope will remain colleagues long into the future.

Overall I am very grateful for the Temple Bar Scholarship for giving me not only a much deeper understanding of the British legal system, but also a more sophisticated appreciation of the points of contact between American and British law and the many ways in which the legal professions and courts on both sides of the Atlantic can continue to learn from each other and grown in tandem. Many thanks to the American Inns of Court for making this wonderful experience possible.

Geoffrey C. Shaw is a clerk for Associate Justice Anthony M. Kennedy of the Supreme Court of the United States. A former Rhodes Scholar, Shaw earned a doctor of philosophy degree from the University of Oxford, authoring a dissertation on H.L.A. Hart’s Critique of American Legal Thought. A graduate of Yale Law School, Shaw earned the Benjamin Scharps Prize for Best Paper by a Third-Year Student and the Joseph Parker Prize for Best Paper on Legal History. He was a Coker Fellow in Constitutional Law and served as social chair of the Yale Law Review. Shaw also has clerked for Judge Stephen Reinhardt of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Shaw has worked as a summer associate in the law firms of Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP in Los Angeles and Susman Godfrey LLP in New York. He earned his undergraduate degree magna cum laude in philosophy from Yale College, where he received the George A. Schrader Prize Excellence in the Humanities.