1 November 1999
Abigail Townsend meets Lawrence Graham’s new shipping partner Charles Baker, a lawyer who loves to travel but hates the journey from his home to Heathrow.
Charles Baker, maritime expert and new shipping partner at Lawrence Graham, is a keen traveller and explorer of different cultures - but he has his limits.
While he is happy to wax lyrical about his various forays into Europe, being stuck on a gridlocked motorway is not Baker’s idea of fun.
In fact, it was his journey into work from Tonbridge, in Kent, to the Heathrow office of specialist firm Curtis Davis Garrard which prompted him to leave the firm after eight months and join Lawrence Graham in the City.
Baker says: “I realised I had better things to do than sit behind the wheel for four hours a day. If I had wanted that I would have become a truck driver.”
Ian Garrard, a founding partner at his former firm, acknowledges Baker’s reasons for jumping ship. He says: “As a logical consequence, you cannot commute from Kent to the offices in Heathrow.”
But perhaps Baker should be glad he had time to contemplate life, even from a traffic jam on the M25, since in the past year he has been forced into unfamiliar waters.
At the end of 1998, Herbert Smith closed its shipping department, ending Baker’s 10-year stretch at the firm. So he joined specialist shipping, offshore and energy practice Curtis Davis Garrard.
Baker is careful to point out that although Lawrence Graham is the third firm he has been with in less than a year, his clients have not suffered from a discontinuity of care, since he has continued to represent many of them for years.
Although he was at Curtis Davis for only a short time, Baker says he does not regret his time at the firm, believing there are advantages to working at a niche firm.
He says: “It was generally a very positive experience because, in small firms, decisions are taken without the bureaucracy.”
However, although niche firms can cut through red tape, working at a larger firm which boasts a 15-strong shipping group, offers a more international focus on maritime law, which in turn means many more opportunities to travel.
“I enjoy travel. I always have done. It is one of the great attractions of maritime law, you have always got your passport in your suitcase.
“You could not really be a practitioner without having contacts throughout the world.”
Since he can remember, Baker has had the travel bug. His father worked for Nato and Baker spent his childhood in Germany and France, before returning to England as a teenager.
After qualifying in 1974, Baker joined Holman Fenwick & Willan and two years later was sent to France to set up its Paris office until 1980.
Not surprisingly, Baker is fluent in French and German, though he says: “I don’t really know if my knowledge of languages comes from living abroad or good teachers. A bit of both I suppose.”
He is also fluent in Norwegian, although there is a different explanation for this.
“I married a Norwegian,” he says with a shrug.
It is a country he adores. “It is a place I could quite happily settle in,” he says, adding it is a region he hopes to include more in his professional life, now he is back in a larger practice.
“One of the things I would like to do is to introduce [Lawrence Graham] not just to clients I have acted for, but also a large number of contacts in different countries.
“An obvious area will be north Europe, Scandinavia and the Baltic states.”
But while international travel is a definite professional perk, Baker says there are downsides to his chosen area of law.
He often has to fly out to clients whose ships are in trouble because of “warfare, rampant disease ashore, not enough water in the port and so on”.
One of his more interesting lessons in international politesse involved a complicated Libyan case.
Describing his visit to their Paris base in the middle of winter, he says: “Inside was just like Libya - dusty and about 27 degrees centigrade.
“Everyone was in their robes with models of tanks everywhere and of course pictures of their great leader.”
Baker could have been forgiven for having reservations based on his first impressions, but he says: “The Libyans were delightful.”
Despite, or maybe because of, the international variety of his clients, the wanderlust in Baker appears to show no signs of abating.
He says: “I will carry on as long as I get out of bed in the morning and want to go to work.
“The day that I stop feeling that way is probably the time to put on my cardigan and sit in a comfy chair all day.”