Daniel Schaffer, LLB (Bristol), BCL (Oxon)
Doctor of Laws
Tuesday 19 July 2016 at 10.30 am - Orator: Professor Michael Ford
I have not been short of material for this oration for Dan Schaffer. Some of the other orations I have read were strong on achievements but light on details of the graduand’s life. I have not had that problem.
I have known Dan now since we were first year law students in 1983 and since then we have been very close friends. Just in case my personal knowledge were not sufficient, in preparation for this short speech I was sent by Dan seventeen pages of closely-typed text with three attached Appendices, various cross-references and some recommended further reading. At his prompting numerous professional colleagues and friends sent in detailed accounts of their memories about him.
There is a more serious side to this, though. A common theme which emerges from everyone who knows Dan is his commitment. Take this from Brian Green QC - “Dan never gives less than 100% in relation to everything that he turns his attention to, be it his professional work, his academic teaching and research, his road racing [more of that later] or his championing of his beloved Bristol University.” Speak to anyone about Dan and the words that keep coming up are energy, commitment, 100%, 500% or, in his own words, “give it everything”, “total commitment is the bare minimum” or the curious (delivered especially to his own sons), “you can never start your revision too early”. Dan manages to cram more into a day than most people manage in a week. The result of this unparalleled enthusiasm and energy has been a great contribution in many different areas - to legal practice, to academia, to the development of Bristol University and, not least, to those around him.
Dan’s father was a barrister and, at the age of eight (I’m not joking) Dan decided law was for him, though he hadn’t yet decided in which specialist area. When he began studying at Bristol in 1983 he was fortunate to meet some inspiring tutors who kindled his enthusiasm. Two stand out, but many others were important. The first was Professor John Parkinson, or ‘Parkie’ as we all called him. A great teacher with a biting wit, John Parkinson became a close friend of Dan and me until his shocking early death in 2004. The second was Keith Stanton, remarkably still teaching at Bristol today, who in 1985 persuaded Dan to take a BCL in Oxford. There, Dan’s love of law and research blossomed, and Herculean levels of work led to the inevitable First.
The institutions which inspired Dan received repayment many, many times over. He started work as a solicitor at the leading City firm, Freshfields, in 1988 - having been sent there for coming top in the first-year exams at Bristol. He rapidly rose to partner, later moving to Herbert Smith Freehills, and became one of the very foremost experts in pensions law, listed in the top rank in all the legal directories - inspired, again, by his pugilistic Trusts tutor at Bristol, the formidable Della Evans. “The most remarkable instructing solicitor that I have had the pleasure of working with,” says Brian Green; a person of “extraordinary intellectual intensity and force...his mind is a legal scalpel” says Dinah Rose QC, not known for dishing out praise lightly. These achievements, in such an all-consuming job, would be more than enough for most people; but not for Dan.
For Dan never lost his love of academic law. He began teaching in his spare time - at Oxford, Cambridge, LSE, Warwick and - of course - Bristol. He still teaches at Cambridge and Bristol, inspiring the next generation of law students. Everyone who has worked with him knows of his tireless intellectual interest in law, living proof that academia and practice can work symbiotically, because Dan excels at both.
But, in the words of Dr Seuss, “that is not all, oh no, that is not all”. Never forgetting how the University of Bristol had transformed his life, Dan in turn has done an enormous amount to improve the Law School. He set up and chairs the Law Advisory Board. He was one of the key members of the committee which was responsible for refurbishing the Wills Memorial library, raising over £3 million in the process. He pretty much alone drives the distinguished alumni lecture series at Bristol, a richer programme than at any other university in the UK. Each year he persuades alumni who are now leading judges, top QCs or senior practitioners to return to Bristol and to lecture and enliven today’s students. Recently, after realising the difficulties even the best law graduates now face in today’s job market, he has begun organising a job-application skills course, so that future Bristol students will be well-equipped for obtaining the best jobs. He set up master classes in mooting; he was instrumental in attracting Lord Toulson and Lord Wilson of the Supreme Court as Patrons of the Law Club; he’s been heavily involved in improving the School’s marketing - I could go on and on and on.
It is no exaggeration to say that every student at Bristol Law School owes a huge debt to Dan. That the Law School itself occupies the preeminent position it does is in no small part due to Dan’s hard work.
But these achievements miss out much of Dan’s life. Dan’s father Louis was an inspiration to him and his mother, Nina, has always given him tremendous support, encouragement and love. I’m pleased to see that she has turned up to this ceremony today, thirty years after his first graduation, with both of them looking not a day older. In 1990, Dan met his wife, Marianne – a beloved and indispensable partner - and in their very, very different ways they have done everything for their little baby boys, Antoine, Vincent and Louis – who are all here today, although sadly without their dog, Roxy. Many of the people I’ve spoken to refer to Dan’s truly remarkable generosity and loyalty in helping them with their careers, their work or their problems. I’m one of the beneficiaries’ so is his friend Clifford, dragged here today all the way from Israel, thirty years after his graduation.
But I can’t quite let it end there: two personal stories which might serve as metaphors for Dan’s life. In 1987, Dan was on holiday with his good friend David Foxton in Australia. Somehow, they found themselves at a Hawaiian dancing contest, surrounded by a crowd of hostile Australians. The call for volunteers went out, but no-one was willing to perform in front of the jeering audience. Except of course Dan, who stepped up – “I’m Dan from London, England”, he brightly said. In David Foxton’s rather over-legalistic terminology, “there followed a display of choreography which defies polite description”. Dan won the contest, of course - he “gave it everything”, as usual, and charmed the unregenerate Australians.
And back to the cycling. I’ve always been a very keen cyclist and I was a little concerned when Dan informed me in his late thirties he’d decided to start racing. The early events did not suggest a champion in the making. In the first stage of a road race in Wales, he alone in a peloton of 80-odd riders decided it would be a good idea to try and bunny-hop a cattle grid, puncturing both tyres in the process, and losing ten minutes; on the second stage – a simple out-and-back time trial which he had ridden the year before - he went off course at the single roundabout (no-one else did) and, soon completely lost, had to pay a Welsh farmer a not insubstantial sum to drive him back in a truck to the race headquarters, finishing a couple of hours after the winner; the third stage was also a disaster because it was hilly and hill climbing isn’t his speciality, but time is short. Yet, as with everything else, Dan has persisted, trained and fought harder than anyone else and - I dread to say this - he’s now a more than respectable cyclist, even if I wish he wouldn’t spend quite so much timing showing my family his leg muscles.
Madam Chancellor, I present to you Daniel Jacob Oscar Schaffer as eminently worth of the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.