Shipping law is largely the domain of international law firms or niche practices based primarily in London as well as at 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: matters relating to the financing, construction, insurance, use (to include arrested, sunk or salvaged while in action) and ultimately decommissioning of vessels; or the transportation of goods and people by sea.
Clients can include ship owners, shipbuilders, financiers, insurers (hull and cargo), charterers, P&I clubs, and port authorities.
What does this type of lawyer do?
While some shipping lawyers are generalists, most tend to specialise and fall into either “wet shipping”, which relates to accidents on the high seas or “dry shipping”, which deals 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 are required to act at a moment’s notice to protect the client’s interests in the event of collision, damage, loss or other misadventure.
As such lawyers can expect to be ‘on call’ to travel overseas to prepare cases, from assessing the condition of vessels and interviewing/taking witness statements, advising clients on the merits of cases, through to handling conferences with counsel, court and arbitration appearances.
Owing to the technical nature of this work, often “wet” shipping lawyers will be expected to have some form of previous marine experience or qualification, such as Master Mariner accreditation.
“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 drop of a hat 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.
Key words that keep cropping up to describe the services of leading shipping teams include: “pragmatic; commercial; hard working; strong marine understanding and technical legal skills”
Understandably the shipping industry is heavily influenced by international trade and consequently the global economic down turn has had an impact on certain aspects of shipping, such as a lack of financing of new builds and an increase in litigation owing to non-fulfilment of and/or breach of contract.