Firm profile: Shaw and Croft

Maritime boutique Shaw and Croft is celebrating its 25th birthday in October – a quarter of a century of expertise in one of the most quietly fascinating areas of law.

Senior partner:Richard Coles
Turnover: £3.5m
Total number of partners: Nine
Total number of lawyers: 17
Main practice areas: Shipping
Key clients: Kuwait Oil Tankers Company, National Iranian Tanker Company, Sonatrach and various P&I clubs
Number of offices: One
Location: London

Maritime boutique Shaw and Croft is celebrating its 25th birthday in October – a quarter of a century of expertise in one of the most quietly fascinating areas of law.

The firm was founded by Richard Shaw and Roger Croft in 1980. Croft has since retired, while Shaw now teaches maritime law at Southampton University. Their firm has been left in the hands of senior partner Richard Coles, who has been in the role for three years.

Shaw and Croft’s main practice area is shipping litigation, with ship finance also important. The firm carries out some insurance, reinsurance, energy, property and general litigation work too, supporting shipping clients where they need advice. The nine-partner firm’s expertise in shipping is boosted by having solicitors who have drafted some of the most commonly used standard forms in maritime law. The firm has also been involved in some of the most widely reported cases. As Coles explains: “It’s an interesting business. We’re a niche law firm providing an all-round service to the maritime and shipping industries.”

In late December 2002, the cargo vessel Tricolor collided with a container ship in the English Channel and sank with more than 2,000 new cars on board. Shaw and Croft was involved in the insurance claim. It was also involved peripherally in the aftermath of the Piper Alpha oil rig explosion, the Aegean Sea oil spill and even the Brinks Mat robbery. The latter role was as adviser to the underwriters of the gold bullion stolen.

Shaw and Croft is set up to deal with any shipping emergency that might come along, and most of its partners are listed as emergency casualty contacts. When a cargo is perishable, action needs to be taken swiftly to salvage as much of the value as possible if a ship breaks down or runs aground. But not all of the lawyers at the firm carry out work under the broad terms of ’wet’ and ’dry’ shipping law. Coles, for example, is building up a busy practice in the growing niche area of yacht finance. He advises wealthy individuals (who guard their confidentiality fiercely) in the acquisition of luxury yachts, which are often more valuable than giant container vessels. Lending banks are also clients.

All of Shaw and Croft’s partners have international practices and expect to spend as much as a fifth of the year travelling the world. Ships can be wrecked at any time and evidence often needs to be gathered on the spot.

Areas such as the Middle East, with its rich oil industry, are proving particularly profitable at the moment, and some of the firm’s biggest clients include national oil and tanker companies.
Richard Coles
Senior partner
Shaw & Croft