Job Watch: Shipping litigation

Shipping catastrophes may hit the headlines once in a while, but specialist litigators in this sector are always in demand, both in private practice and in-house.

“There’s always a high volume of litigation, whether it’s cargo going missing or being destroyed or ships capsizing, as we recently tragically saw in Italy,” notes James Franklin, manager at Robert Walters.

Brian Sheehy of First Counsel highlights that firms are particularly interested right now in hiring senior and mid-level associates.

“Many of the well-known shipping practices are looking to hire dry shipping litigators, particularly at the mid and senior associate levels,” he says. “There tends to be an ongoing need among most shipping teams in the City for additional resources at the partner level – particularly where those partners can bring a substantial book of portable business.”

If you are thinking of moving firm, however, it is worth doing your homework, advises Franklin.

“As with any practice area, firms look for a consistent career history when hiring. I’d therefore advise individuals to thoroughly investigate the firms they’re applying for jobs with, find out what type of shipping companies they typically work with and then look for parallels between this information and their own personal careers.

“When applying for roles, a candidate’s CV will also need to be completely up-to-date with the latest shipping cases they’ve worked on.”

Sheehy urges associates to be savvy and to put plenty of thought into any firms they are considering joining before sending in applications.

“Shipping litigation’s a very discrete and specialised area of the law. Should you have a good background in this area from a recognisable City firm, it’s likely you’ll be in high demand,” he says. “Doing proper due diligence with the help of a recruitment consultant is crucial given the limited number of players in the market.

“Candidates need to be circumspect in their decisions about which firms to contact and why.”

Lawyers from generalist contentious backgrounds may struggle to break into this niche field, warns Franklin.

“In reality it’s very difficult, as firms always look for experience that’s directly relevant to the role,” he says.

Sheehy adds that, while hires may come about occasionally at the junior end, candidates will still have to prove their worth.

“Exceptional academics and training at a top-tier firm for litigation would in all likelihood be required to demonstrate the capacity to quickly adapt to a new area of law,” he notes.

Franklin points out that in-house litigators may have more luck in breaking into the sector.

“We’ve seen some consider in-house lawyers with required skills,” he observes, “although they’ll look closely at the types of shipping litigation they’ve done, such as whether they have previously worked in merchant shipping or private vessels.”