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legal practice areas

Shipping law

What is shipping law?

Shipping law is largely the domain of international law firms or niche practices based primarily in London. However, there are some regional law firms based in seafaring cities such as Liverpool, Bristol, Newcastle and Ipswich.

While it is a highly specialised field, shipping law is comprises of a broad range of disciplines relating to either the financing, construction, insurance, use of and ultimately decommissioning of vessels; or the transportation of goods and people by sea.

Clients include ship owners, shipbuilders, financiers, insurers (hull and cargo), charterers, P&I clubs and port authorities.

What does a shipping lawyer do?

While some shipping lawyers are generalists, most tend to specialise in either wet shipping (relating to accidents on the high seas) or dry shipping (dealing with contractual and commercial matters) and can involve a contentious side, for example, where there are contractual disputes.

Shipping solicitors can get involved in disputes when buying, selling, repairing, refuelling, mortgaging or insuring ships.Shipping disputes can be highly technical, involving ship engineering and project management experts.

What skills are required?

  • Adaptability - willingness to work either independently or as part of the team, including other solicitors, engineers and other professionals.
  • Communication - ability to present arguments clearly and concisely.
  • Commitment -the ability to work consistently to a high standard, for long hours or under tight deadlines.

“Wet” Shipping Lawyers

“Wet” Shipping Lawyers are required to act at a moment’s notice to protect their client’s interests in the event of collision, damage, loss or other misadventure.

Lawyers can expect to be ‘on call’ to travel overseas to prepare cases through assessing the condition of vessels, interviewing witnesses and taking their statements, advising clients on the merits of cases and handling conferences with counsel, court and arbitration appearances.

Due to the technical nature of this work, “wet” shipping lawyers will often be expected to have some form of previous marine experience or qualification, such as Master Mariner accreditation.

“Dry” Shipping Lawyers

“Dry” Shipping Lawyers handle the negotiation and drafting of all contractual documentation for all aspects relating to the vessel and its contents such as the finance (sale and purchase), construction, carriage, insurance and employment contracts. Additional specialisms include fishing and yachting, which have a strong regulatory angle.

While the litigious aspects of wet and dry work are similar, dry shipping is unlikely to require you to jump on a plane at the last minute and while previous marine experience may be advantageous, it is not a prerequisite.

The nature of dry work often involves heavy documentation crossing multiple jurisdictions and as such requires a strong intellect, attention to detail and the ability to grasp complex concepts.

How to get into shipping law?

To work as a solicitor, you can either take the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE), or if you are eligible, you can study the Legal Practice Course (LPC).

If you qualify through the SQE, you will also need to complete two years of Qualifying Work Experience (QWE). To prepare for the SQE, we recommend studying one of our SQE courses, which have been designed to give you the knowledge and skills for a successful career as a solicitor.

If you’re eligible to study the LPC, you will need to get a two-year training contract with a law firm. To find out what route is right for you, see our Becoming a Solicitor page.

Once you complete your two-year training contract or QWE, you can apply to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) to be admitted as a solicitor.

To become a barrister, you will need to have completed an undergraduate law degree, or if you are a non-law graduate, a conversion course, before completing the Bar Practice Course (BPC). You will then need to secure pupillage.

We also offer a range of Master of Laws (LLM) courses to help you move into shipping law. You could study a Master of Law (LLM) in International Business Law, Employment Law or International Commercial Law to give you the knowledge and skills to move into this sector.

What is the salary of a shipping lawyer?

The highest salaries for shipping lawyers can be found in London, with wages tending to decrease the further north you move to. According to the Indeed website, shipping lawyers earn on average £60,000 per year. Your salary will depend on which firm you work for, where you are located and what stage you’re at in your career.

Law firms specialising in shipping law

  • HFW
  • Clyde & Co LLP
  • Hill Dickinson LLP
  • MFB
  • Stephenson Harwood
  • Campbell Johnston Clark

Useful links

The following student guides have useful information working in shipping law: Chambers and Partners Student guide, Target Law and the London Maritime Arbitrators Association.

Gov.co.uk provides the latest guidance about the shipping industry regulations and keeping up-to-date when rules changes or new regulations are introduced.