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 comprised 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.
What skills are required?
“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.