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Few firms have set up as easily as Winter Scott did in January 2004. All but one of its fee-earners – ship finance partner Jeff Morgan, who has just joined the firm from Stephenson Harwood – did not even have to move to new offices. They simply stayed at their old desks at 19-21 Great Tower Street, where they used to work at their previous firm Holmes Hardingham, where they represented almost all of its shipping practice.
All they did to separate themselves from their former colleagues, based at 22-23 Great Tower Street, was build a wall, take over Holmes Hardingham’s rental agreements, and rename themselves.
“It was really a sideways move rather than starting a business up from scratch,” admits Ken Scott, Winter Scott’s managing partner.
Considering that Winter Scott’s split from Holmes Hardingham was down to a “partnership dispute”, it is unlikely the two sides go out much together after work in the drinking holes around Monument in the City.
Scott declined to discuss details of the dispute because of a confidentiality agreement.
Neither is he particularly upbeat about current work levels, which is surprising considering the ship construction industry is experiencing its biggest boom in decades.
The number of shipping disputes, which is Winter Scott’s main area of work, should be on the rise, it would seem.
However, according to Scott, there are fewer companies buying and selling ships than there were four years ago because they are looking forward by two years, which is when the ships they order now will be built.
“By then the market will have dipped,” he explains. “It’s a difficult market, there’s no doubt about it.”
The other problem is that rates are being squeezed by the Protection & Indemnity (P&I) clubs, which mutually insure shipowners. Winter Scott, which acts mainly for shipowners, companies that charter ships and P&I clubs (its biggest being Norway’s Skuld club), charges between £200 and £250 per hour. Also, the clubs’ legal teams have grown and are thus doing more of their legal work in-house.
However, with only four assistants, the firm’s costs are comparatively low. Also, the firm has no intention of enduring the extra costs of setting up offices in maritime centres such as Norway and Greece. “There are too many lawyers [in these places] and most of this work comes to London anyway,” Scott insists.
The most significant change at Winter Scott since its establishment, then, has been to hire Jeff Morgan, a high-earning ex-Stephenson Harwood partner. Morgan’s ship finance practice has given Winter Scott a rounder shipping practice. Expansion is expected to be limited to the hiring of two more assistants. However, despite the changing fortunes of ship work, London maritime lawyers are always in demand, particularly those at the smaller, less expensive firms such as Winter Scott.
Total number of partners
Total number of lawyers
Main practice areas
Ship litigation and ship finance
Dynacom, Pacnav de Mexico, Spliethoff, Sea Tankers, Stolt-Nielsen and Skuld