What does a maritime lawyer do? This question has been plaguing the minds of many people for a long time now.
As far as maritime law is concerned, also known as admiralty law, it is the legal practice that handles seafaring matters like shipping or anything which is carried out on open waters. Due to this reason, it is not only restricted to matters of business on the sea, but also breach of international laws and, in some cases, even crime.
The very initial step on the road to becoming a maritime lawyer is finishing a bachelor’s degree. As soon as you have the bachelor’s degree in your hand, the next step is to graduate from law school and lastly, to pass the state bar exam which will give you the license to practice law. Moreover, if you are sure that this is the career path you want to follow, then you can even get a certificate specifically in maritime law as part of your qualifications.
Maritime lawyers specialize in laws concerning navigable waters. Their responsibilities can range from overlooking any legal concerns regarding ships registered in the United States. If in law school you are studying to become a maritime lawyer, you can opt for elective courses in maritime law. Some law schools even offer certificate programs for a career in maritime law.
This page will provide you with everything you need to know if you are interested in pursuing this specific career path.
Table of Contents
What Is A Maritime Lawyer’s Job Description
We have already established the fact that maritime lawyers are certified attorneys whose main duty is concerning legal affairs relating to any activity on the sea. Hence, they speak for clients or corporations where the case is associated with the seas, oceans or even other open bodies of water. Maritime law has been one of the oldest categories that stem from law in general. It has advanced immensely over these years, so much so that now it spans over a wide array of issues including:
- injuries and working conditions at sea,
- shipping and commerce,
- boating for fun and
- environmental concerns
Note that ships or any marine mode of transport that has the American flag is liable to the United States maritime law.
Other duties that fall in the laps of maritime lawyers include:
- fighting cases in court,
- preparing documents,
- settling agreements
- overseeing complaints regarding injuries or sickness that might have been caused by seacraft or an industry disposing waste into the water.
- reviewing or drafting contracts,
- interviewing witnesses
- safeguarding or advocating for individuals or companies against personal injury lawsuits.
- working for international organizations or government sectors.
Since maritime law focuses on legal matters related to water, most maritime lawyers work close to bodies of water.
Maritime Lawyer Jobs
Within the maritime law industry itself, there are quite a lot of potential interest groups. Therefore, you can choose any particular field you want to go for in maritime law. Without giving an extensive set of opportunities that might confuse you, the following list covers some major areas you could apply for when it comes to maritime lawyer jobs:
- Cargo interests, such as. importers and exporters of cargo, either as originators or traders of that cargo
- Customs authorities
- Land transport operators carrying goods to and from ports
- Container storage, warehouse manager, tank farm supervisor and stockpile executive
- Ships agents
- The import and export items, break bulk and container terminals, including the owners and managers of those terminals
- Clearing and forwarding agents
- Charterers of ships Salvors
- Ship Owners
- The Port Authority
- South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA – or its match in other countries)
- Passengers on cruise liners
- Optimizing authorities such as the Ports Regulator of South Africa
- Officers and crew of ships
Maritime Law Contracts
As mentioned before, maritime lawyers have to deal with legal documentations and reports. Given below are a few examples of the usual written agreements or contracts that a maritime lawyer would have to deal with:
- Contracts of carrying the cargo from its land side origin to the harbour, a depot, place of storage etc, and vice versa
- Storage agreements which can include those for the storage of dry or liquid items, containers and warehousing of items being unloaded
- Terminal agreements
- Terminal regulations
- Standard Trading Conditions for major service providers
- Charter parties between ship owners and charterers
- Consignment notes between shippers and charterers
- Lading costs
- Port regulations
It is obvious that disputes might form between the parties who are in relationship with each other. The contracts and documents that are formulated by maritime lawyers highlight the specification of the relationship. Therefore, when disputes arise the documents are usually the first source of reference for courts and adjudication committees to deal with those disputes. These arguments usually revolve around things such as:
- Short landing of cargo
- Damage to cargo
- Disputes concerning claims
- Contamination of cargo by stowing stations or by the ship itself
- Charter party disputes with regards to despatching, the speed and consumption performance of a vessel, payment of hire or freight, and the like
- Disputes with Port authorities regarding their decisions or applications of tariffs
- Customs disputes
- Bad debts of service providers
How Much Does A Maritime Lawyer Make
The salaries of a maritime lawyer can vary from country to country. For example, in London, England, the average salary of a maritime lawyer is around £60,000, while in the United States, the average salary is almost $120,910. In the US, these salaries will also differ from state to state.
However, as it is with every other field, a general salary package will differ depending on which firm you work for, where you are based and, of course, what level you are at in your professional life. If you are looking to become a maritime lawyer, the salary will most probably be less stable because of the freelance nature of your job. Nevertheless, you will have the chance to earn more in the longer run.
Maritime Law Courses
Just like it is with other law degrees, maritime law courses offered by universities also depend upon the country that you choose to study in. In countries like Singapore and the UK, law degrees are earned in the form of an LLB (Bachelor of Laws). After this, students take the national Bar or Law Society qualifying exam which is essential for them to pass in if they want to practice as a lawyer.
Sometimes a BA in Law (BL) or a BSc in Law is also awarded. Keep in mind that most universities draw a clear distinction between LLB and BA programmes where the former emphasizes particularly on law, while the latter permits students to take modules in other subjects. Graduate law degrees put more spotlight on academic research and are often referred to as a PhD in Law, (JSD) Doctor of Juridical Science or Doctor of Laws.
On the other hand, in countries such as the US, Japan, Canada, Hong Kong and Australia, a J.D (Juris Doctor) is offered instead. These countries require you to have a bachelor’s degree in a different (but often related) discipline. After your bachelor’s degree, you can then continue to take up legal studies at the graduate level.
A Juris Doctor takes three years to complete. After they have finished their J.D, students are also offered the choice of acquiring a Master of Laws (LLM) in any area they wish to specialize in. If a lawyer does not have a J.D, they can study for LLM. This will open doors for them to practice in countries that require a JD. It is mandatory for any law student who wants to study in the US to take the LSATs (Law School Admission Test) if they want to be admitted into American law programmes.
Many universities offer advanced maritime law diplomas (apart from general postgraduate diplomas) that can help you grow and excel in your career.
Most maritime law courses are similar to what other law specialisations are taught. In their first year of law school, students studying the LLB in Maritime Law are taught the fundamentals of law. These basic courses include those such as introduction to legal techniques, the legal system, legal research and reasoning and literacy skills.
In the second year, students get to learn more about criminal law and criminal justice, securities law, contract law, legal system and research, property law and law of torts. On the other hand, remaining topics and essential modules like employment law, family law, health care law, equity and trusts, data protection law and international law and finally maritime law subjects.
The maritime modules that law schools focus on are:
- Carriage of goods by sea
- International trade law
- Introduction to the international law of the sea
- International commercial arbitration
- Admiralty law
- Marine insurance
- Injured employee compensation
- Marine pollution
- Shipping contracts
Some Great Universities For Studying Maritime Law
Here are some universities that you can consider applying to if you want to pursue maritime law:
- Swansea University
- University of Southampton
- Tulane University
- National University of Singapore
- University of Cape Town
- University of Oslo
- International Maritime Law Institute
- University of Nottingham
- Dalhousie University
- University of Hawaii at Manoa
- City, University of London
Maritime law can handle many insurance issues concerning cargo on ships, civil matters between owners of vessels and passengers, as well as piracy issues. Marine lawyers also oversee issues concerning insurance of ships, registrations and inspections. Currently, the UK is the largest legal service provider for maritime lawyers and for anyone who wants to pursue this career. The country has over forty active law firms in the sector.
Maritime lawyers often find themselves in situations where they are investigating and dealing with disputes as a result of collisions, explosions, fires on boarding ships, sinking oil spills and so on, all from a single incident. However, the wet work is always thrilling, and calls for instant investigation, responsible and quick decision-making, and of course advising all of the interested stakeholders. Therefore, it is safe to say that there is no boring day in the life of a maritime lawyer!