The LL.M. in Maritime Law

Postgraduate programs remain a key port of call for careers in one of the oldest fields of law.

Thousands of years after the earliest known maritime law codes were written, the world remains reliant on the high seas for transportation and shipping. Over 90 percent of global trade is carried by sea, and the volume of goods shipped is increasing every year. There are now one million seafarers working on over 50,000 merchant ships registered in over 150 countries.

Given the economic importance of the industry, it is no surprise to find many lawyers specializing in Maritime Law in governments, international organizations, and the shipping and litigation departments of law firms around the world.

There are over 15 LL.M. programs worldwide that offer a focus on Maritime Law (sometimes also called Admiralty Law). Few law schools offer more than a class or two as part of their J.D. or LL.B. programs, so the LL.M. is generally the only option for lawyers who want to specialize in an academic setting.

"Many go to a firm and learn it, but it's not the same learning," says Aleka Mandaraka-Sheppard, founder and director of the London Shipping Law Centre at University College London (UCL). "It takes years to learn the hard way."

"The LL.M. puts things into focus," she says. "Those who haven't done it need to pick up the pieces here and there - like a jigsaw puzzle. It's not easy. Usually, they get there and become good lawyers, but it takes more time."

Many Maritime Law LL.M. programs offer similar sets of courses: Admiralty Law, Marine Insurance, Carriage of Goods by Sea, Law of the Sea, Shipping Regulation, as well as courses covering shipbuilding, salvage, towage, collisions, and liability. Some programs have also integrated environmental law components.

Martin Davies, director of the Tulane Maritime Law Center at Tulane University, says his program attracts two main groups of students: foreign lawyers already working in the field and US lawyers looking to specialize, or "do a year's worth of nothing but maritime law."

What law schools have LL.M. programs in maritime law?

Tulane's Admiralty Law LL.M. program is the only major maritime LL.M. program in the United States. Most other programs are taught in Europe and Britain, including those at Bristol, Lund, Nottingham, Southampton, and Swansea, and the specialized institutes at the University of Oslo and the International Maritime Law Institute in Malta.

A few other programs are located in major commercial ports like Rotterdam, Cape Town, and Athens, where City University London plans to expand their Maritime Law program. Due to the growing importance of Singapore (and Asia as a whole) in shipping, the National University of Singapore (NUS) began an English-language Maritime Law program in 2007.

"Traditionally, Europe was where the centers of trade and maritime law were, and the businesses were located - the insurers, the shipbuilders, etc.," says Stephen Girvin, who directs the NUS Maritime Law LL.M. and graduate diploma programs. "But the last 25, 30, 40 years have seen a gradual move East. So Asia is becoming more and more important both in terms of the practice of law and the business."

Girvin says that his program not only attracts students from Asia, but also several lawyers from Europe, some of whom are looking to land a job in the region. The NUS program offers a few Asia-specific courses, but most are international in scope, reflecting the prevailing influence of English common law.

In Singapore, as anywhere else, lawyers who take a year off to study are not only looking to broaden their knowledge; they are also seeking a boost to their resume or a stepping stone into a law firm's shipping department. Can an LL.M. program deliver?

"There's no doubt that some employers will see it as indicator of interest if a student has pursued a master's program," says Girvin. "The chances that you have studied Maritime or Shipping Law as an undergraduate are negligible, simply because the courses tend to be offered at master's level."

Meanwhile Martin Davies says Tulane's program aims to get students "as well prepared for maritime practice as it is possible coming out of law school."

"I think that an LL.M. certainly helps a graduate's prospects," he says. "As we tell our students, it doesn't guarantee that they will get a job in the field. But it often means that at least they will get an interview, because they will clearly be regarded as employable."

Update June 29, 2015:

Image: "Containership Sea-Land Charger on her route to Hong Kong" by DeWOW / Creative Commons (cropped)

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