Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, August 4, 2017

Shaw at home on stage, in courtroom

Attorney finds latest passion in quickly emerging drone industry

For as long as he can remember, Scott Shaw wanted to be a lawyer. When other boys dreamed of growing up to be firemen or policemen he imagined himself in the courtroom.

Now, as a partner at Chattanooga’s Evans Harrison Hackett law firm specializing in business-based and property-related litigation, Shaw is firmly enmeshed in the legal communities of the Chattanooga area and northern Georgia.

He certainly fits the profile of a man who leads a buttoned-down life as a high-achieving lawyer. But Shaw has surprising hobbies and interests that belie the stereotypical life of an attorney.

The Chattanooga resident of 19 years is also a passionate – and very active – actor at The Chattanooga Theatre Centre, a popular community theater organization, now in its 93rd season.

At 6-foot-6, the self-admitted “big guy” is also a participant in Highland Heavy Athletics, strength and speed contests that have their roots in 10th century Scotland and are performed at Scottish-themed festivals.

“I had a friend at the Chattanooga Theatre Centre that kept hounding me to go do a show,” Shaw says. “About five years ago I decided the time was right. They were producing “Annie,” and I thought, ‘oh I would get cast in a small role, but I was cast as Daddy Warbucks.’”

Other plays and roles Shaw has tackled include Andrew Jackson in “Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson” and “King Arthur in “Camelot.” He is currently starring as Black Stache in “Peter in the Starcatcher,” a Tony-award winning farcical comedy meant to be a prequel to the Peter Pan story.

Chattanoogan.com reviewed his performance as “flawless as the refined and deliciously effeminate villain.”

Although Shaw’s law career is flourishing and satisfying, he says acting provides an important outlet for him. “A lot of law is structured, squared and ordered; it doesn’t necessarily fulfill that creative side,” he points out.

“So, it’s fun to get out of the office and do something creative and collaborate with people I would never collaborate with in my professional life. It’s exhausting, but at the end of the day it feeds something that doesn’t get fed between 9 and 5.”

The beginnings

Shaw’s trajectory to the legal profession began as soon as he entered college at Wake Forest University in 1990. He joined a student court organization that handled the fate of students charged with social or honor offenses. The group offered accused students a prosecutor, defender and a board of students that acted much like a jury.

Shaw volunteered as a defender his entire four years at Wake Forest, and he says the experience left a profound impression on him.

“If you got a citation for a social violation like underage drinking or plagiarizing a paper, you had to go through a formal process before the school’s honor council to have your case heard,” Shaw explains. “It was very similar to the actual legal system in our state and federal government.

“It was a very educational experience and it also made me proud to be part of Wake Forest. If you were brought up on plagiarism charges, even if you were an athlete, there was a formal hearing and your fate was in the hands of a group of your peers who decided whether you were guilty or not.”

Shaw remembers one particular case that has remained an influence throughout his life. He defended a member of the Wake Forest football team accused of cheating on a test. A professor had charged the student with the offense because the student answered test questions very similar to a student sitting close to him.

“This was a scholarship football player, and he was scared to death and was afraid he was going to be sent home,” Shaw recalls. “I actually did a statistical analysis to show what the odds were that he would get the same answers on a multiple-choice test as someone sitting next to him. I was able to show that he had a one-in-four chance of getting the same answer as the person next to him. There was no way to prove that he had cheated on the test.”

A law career in Chattanooga

Originally from Georgia, Shaw moved to Chattanooga in in 1998 to work for the Schumacker & Thompson law firm. In 2001, that firm became Schumacker, Witt, Gaither & Whitaker, and Shaw stayed with them until 2006 when he left to become a partner at Husch & Blackwell until 2013.

Then, in 2013 Shaw joined the boutique firm of Evans Harrison Hackett, a choice that represented a significant career shift.

“I had been with firms with 800 or 900 lawyers before,” Shaw notes. “Now there are 10 of us, all of whom are ex-big-firm guys.”

Shaw describes the workplace culture at Evans Harrison Hackett as highly personal and hands-on. A conscious effort is made to maintain healthy, communicative relationships with other lawyers in the firm and with clients.

“I think Chattanooga and the law industry in general want that personal relationship,” Shaw says. “We are very happy with our culture here. We are very selective about who we bring into the firm. We are law partners but we are also friends.

“Even on a good day the practice of law can be very stressful, so being surrounded by good lawyers who are also friends makes life significantly better,” Shaw adds. “When my clients talk to me they know that I’m the one that’s doing the work. Also, having my own platform allows me to set my own rates. No one in another city is telling me that I need to make my rate $400 an hour.

“I had a client yesterday who wanted to do something on a flat-rate basis,” he adds. “In the past, I would have had to go through nine committees to have that approved. The client wanted something non-traditional, and I was able to give it to them because the flexibility (at a small firm) is significantly greater.”

Commercial litigation and drones

Shaw’s practice has a high concentration in commercial litigation; the vast majority of his cases involve commercial real estate-related business disputes.

Shaw explains the growth of this specific niche of the law:

“When the recession hit in 2008, the (commercial real estate) industry went into a halt, but the offshoot of that is that the litigation aspect went bananas. It’s really almost a recession-proof area of practice because when the economy is good there are disputes, and when the economy comes to a halt and the contractors are not being paid and tenants are defaulting, litigations boom once again.”

In recent years, Shaw has developed expertise around the cutting-edge field of commercial operation of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, better known as drones. He advises clients about their proposed operation of drone vehicles, regulations imposed by the Federal Aviation Administration and the interaction of those regulations with existing state law.

“This is a brand-new industry and there’s not a lot of regulation,” Shaw explains. “The FAA was given permission to give a set of rules together for these unmanned systems, but a lot of it was just their best guess of what they thought the law would be in the next six months to a year.

“I’ve developed a very deep knowledge of how the industry is evolving,” Shaw adds. “There are more defined regulations now than there were even a year ago.”

Although drone-related work takes up a small part of Shaw’s time, he expects it will eventually occupy much more.

“I believe drones will change, in a very fundamental way, how people do business in this country,” Shaw points out. “Just a year ago Jeff Bezos was talking about delivering packages from Amazon with drones.

“People are discovering new uses for drones every day,” he adds. “For example, we have cooling towers here in Chattanooga, and they used to have to send two men on a scaffold to go inspect them. Now they can send drones to do the work, and there’s no risk of human life.

“Not only that, you can do in a day what used to take humans three weeks to do.”

Gravitas and goofiness

Scott Dunlap, youth theatre director at the Chattanooga Theatre Centre, says people notice Shaw from the moment he enters a room.

“My first impression of Scott was that he was a little solemn,” Dunlap says. “He has a gravitas that makes him elegant, and even a little imposing. Some of that probably has to do with his height.”

But as Dunlap describes it, Shaw’s commanding presence often turns into something else altogether.

“Underneath it all, he’s a goofball who can get you to laugh,” Dunlap notes. “He’s a very good listener and even has a Jimmy Stewart kind of presence.”

Dunlap has directed Shaw in several plays, including “Peter and the Starcatcher,” which ended July 30.

He says Shaw is a “focused, talented” actor who immerses himself in his roles (at least one a year for the past five years) with total commitment.

“It’s pretty unusual to find someone who does what he does and at the level he’s doing it,” Dunlap says when talking about Shaw’s double life as a high-profile attorney during the day and community theater star at night.

Meanwhile, Shaw, who is also board president at the Chattanooga Theater Centre, gives massive credit to his family – wife Alison, also an attorney, 12-year-old McLean and 14-year-old Morgan – for being accepting about the demands of his life.

“When I’m in a play it’s grueling, and it can be very stressful,” Shaw says. “I’ll run to the house to change clothes and go to the theater to begin rehearsing at 7.

“I don’t get home until about 10:30 or 11 at night, so the kids are already in bed.

“They suffer for eight weeks, but they are very generous and understanding of my insatiable theater habit.”