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As a relatively niche area, vacancies in the shipping market are hard to come by. That said, a number of recruiters are adamant that associates and partners with a strong set of demonstrable skills and a substantial client following will always be in demand.
Shipping law is rarely smooth sailing and litigators with expertise in the practice will always be prized particularly highly.
“There’s always a high volume of litigation, whether it’s cargo going missing or cargo being destroyed,” says Colin Loth, director of legal recruitment at Robert Walters.
This view is echoed by Jonathan Smythe at DMJ Legal, who says: “Contentious shipping lawyers remain in high demand at the mid- to senior level, and those with experience in contentious commodities work are providing particularly difficult for firms to find in the City.”
Smythe notes that lawyers with expertise in upmarket yacht or super-yacht work are also highly sought-after at the moment.
The upcoming implementation of the Maritime Labour Convention, due in August this year, is a big date in the diaries of shipping experts. Loth says it is likely to boost business for firms with a specific litigation/employment focus.
Charting the difference
In fact, the split between contentious and non-contentious work has increasingly come to overtake the traditional split between ‘wet’ and ‘dry’ shipping, according to Darryn Hale, partner at Taylor Root.
Hale explains: “This is because as the market remains tight firms are keen to squeeze as much out of their hires as possible.”
Those candidates with the best shot in the jobs market will be competent all-rounders with experience of both wet and dry work.
So what level of experience are firms seeking? Loth and Hale agree that the market is most favourable for young shipping associates of 2-4 years’ PQE.
“Teams look to recruit experienced associates who are knowledgeable and able to adapt to new developments in the law,” says Loth.
But Smythe and Jonathan Firth, managing partner at Michael Page Legal, disagree. They reckon current requirements tend to be at the mid- to senior level.
“The minimum level of PQE the larger practices seem to be considering at this point in time is around 3-4 PQE, moving towards the senior associate scale,” says Smythe. For Firth, “demand is high for lawyers who have anywhere between one and five years’ PQE.”
One thing is for sure though, small, boutique-style firms may have a prominent place in the shipping market, but care must be taken not to discount the muscle of larger firms when on the lookout for a new position.
As Hale stresses, “There are many niche shipping firms with excellent P&I contacts, but larger international outfits with substantial trade and commodities practices still hold a big share of the market.”