- Skill Sharpener
The Tulane Maritime Law Center Anchors Program in Unique Specialty
by Erica Winter
New Orleans is only second to New York in its number of maritime attorneys, says Martin Davies, Tulane's Admiralty Law Institute Professor of Maritime Law and Co-Director of the Maritime Law Center. In 1982, a group of New Orleans firms joined with Tulane Law School and its well-established admiralty and maritime academic program to form the center.
At least 100 law schools in the United States teach some classes in admiralty and maritime law, usually one or two, says Davies. Tulane offers 12 courses every year, as well as an LL.M. degree in the specialty. In addition to three professors affiliated with the center, the school brings in one international visiting faculty member each semester to teach.
The center also holds seminars and continuing education programs for lawyers and holds the Admiralty Law Institute, a biannual internationally attended conference.
There are usually around 60 Tulane Law students who specialize in admiralty and maritime law. They can receive certificates of specialization if they have successfully completed at least 12 credits (five classes) in the field. Tulane also has about 20 students per year going for their LL.M.s in admiralty and maritime law.
There are many students who are not specializing in maritime law but who take advantage of the program. Davies has 138 students in his Admiralty I. class in the fall semester. ''They are at Tulane, and this is the place,'' says Davies.
What maritime law students study is both usual-and not.
While maritime law may seem to be a narrow field, it is actually ''very broad and varied,'' says Davies. It is a subset of international trade law focusing on ships and what they do. In some arenas, laws are simply applied to maritime issues; in others, maritime laws are in a separate pool altogether.
Most of the legal work in maritime law happens in two main areas: carriage of goods and personal injury. The latter is a good example of one of the separate pools. Personal injury law is usually governed on a state level, explains Davies. For maritime law in the United States, these become federal issues, and the applicable federal laws are a completely separate part of tort law.
Other issues in the maritime legal net include environmental problems, collisions of ships, ship salvage (one ship helping another in distress), and procedure in admiralty jurisdiction.
Jurisdiction is often a thorny problem for ships. Most ocean-going ships coming into the United States are foreign-owned. Finding the owner and having him appear in a U.S. court to have him respond to, for example, a personal injury suit, can be a challenge.
One solution used by maritime lawyers in these situations is to ''arrest the ship,'' says Davies. The boat and all the people and cargo on board are held in the port until the owner/defendant makes an appearance. If the owner is facing a $30,000 claim and the ship is worth $4 million, holding out the ship as bait is a persuasive lure.
When practicing maritime law, an attorney could spend one day on an international carriage case, one on a pollution issue, the next day arrest a ship, and the next work on a personal injury case. In this way, the specialty is similar to other areas of law practice, such as sports law or Internet law, in that the law in general is applied to a specific context, says Davies.
Yet the difference between maritime law and other areas is that, in maritime cases, the courts are applying a separate body of law to the case at hand. Also, some areas of the field are borderless; others depend on the nation involved.
Davies, teaching at Tulane Law since 1999, has also practiced and taught maritime law in Australia and his native United Kingdom. Maritime law is, by nature, an international field. ''I'm living proof of the international transportability'' of this work, says Davies.
While shipping laws vary from country to country, there are also internationally agreed-on conventions governing shipping. For example, a carrier's obligations to its clients, cargo, and crew are internationally established.
Pollution laws for shippers, however, are not global. After the Exxon Valdez oil spill off the coast of Alaska, the United States has stricter oil-spill rules than other nations. Most of what changed involved regulation for the structure of vessels and rules on payment for cleanups, says Davies.
While there is no clinic program in maritime law (indigent shipping owners being an impossibility), students in the Tulane program can do externships with judges or maritime firms in New Orleans. Graduates go on to work in firms, for the government, and for international liability insurers (called ''PNI clubs'').
Also, while in the 1990s companies shifted away from employing in-house maritime attorneys, that mast seems to be swinging back around, says Davies, with large international companies once again looking for lawyers who know maritime law to come on board.