Behind the Scenes: The Lawmen at Sea
Asked about his most memorable experiences and achievements as a maritime lawyer, Mr Mohammad Haireez bin Mohammed Jufferie, a Partner at Haridass Ho & Partners, says “Most of the maritime cases I have handled are all memorable in their own way. That makes it difficult to choose one to highlight”, inciting major career-envy from all.
How many could say the same about their work?
To understand better about what Maritime and Shipping Lawyers do, the MSC Office spoke with Mohammad Haireez bin Mohammed Jufferie from Haridass Ho & Partners and Tan Siew Chi from Ang & Partners – two young lawyers who both described their careers as intellectually stimulating, global in scope and varied in nature.
Haireez first read law at the National University of Singapore (NUS). Not only was he intrigued by how maritime cases have shaped and continues to shape various other aspects of law such as contract, tort and conflict of laws, he was also guided by some of the best and most passionate maritime legal practitioners who spurred his interest further. It also helped that he fared well for his maritime-related modules (in fact, he graduated as the top student from NUS in shipping law related subjects!), hence a specialisation in maritime seemed to be a natural progression. While he has had the privilege of being involved in other practice areas over the years, maritime law remains front and centre of his practice.
What Sets Maritime Law Apart From Other Fields?
He did, however, share one memory that stuck with him from earlier in his career. While investigating a case concerning complaints of defects on a constructed rig, he went on board with surveyors to inspect the rig’s internal spud cans. These large inverted-shaped cones at the base of the jack-up rig’s legs help to lend stability, but are dark, confined spaces that can be quite difficult to get into. While the experience itself was interesting, he also witnessed very senior maritime lawyers breezing through this task, something that many able-bodied men half their age would likely consider physically challenging.
While attending to meetings are part and parcel of a lawyer’s life in just about every practice area, the job of a maritime lawyer is not as desk bound as most would assume. From serving arrest papers to visiting a Floating Production Storage and Offloading (FPSO) unit with a team of fire experts following a major fire incident on board, Haireez attends to matters on board various types of vessels when the situation calls for it.
These experiences are similarly shared by Siew Chi, who finds that attending on-site to get a perspective of the case from where the incident occurred is always useful. Siew Chi recalls that during an attendance on board for a collision matter, it was discovered that master’s line of sight from the bridge could have been obstructed due to the design of the bridge windows. Such on-site observations can provide valuable ammunition for cross-examination at trial.
Siew Chi had also started her journey at NUS Law School. However, it was on student exchange at the Erasmus University of Rotterdam that she took some maritime-related modules and found that it was something she really enjoyed. She explains, “I was particularly interested in maritime casualties and the cross-border aspects of international carriage and trade. The tangible nature of maritime casualty and admiralty matters also strongly appeals to me.”
According to Haireez, one of the fascinating aspects about maritime law work is how international and transnational it is. In fact, probably more so than other practice areas within law.
"Maritime lawyers get opportunities to work with lawyers across the globe wherever the ship or the cargo in question may take them, and travel for overseas hearings or meetings more extensively than their peers in other practice areas."
- Mohammad Haireez bin Mohammed Jufferie, Partner with Haridass Ho & Partners
The Technical Nature of Maritime Law
Undoubtedly, maritime law can get technical. With such massive operations, lawyers are involved in various components of this global trade – from the construction of the vessel, dispute resolution to the eventual recycling of the vessel.
For Siew Chi, it is this learning that keeps her engaged. Because of the cross-functional nature of the maritime industry, she had an opportunity to go on a secondment to a Protection and Indemnity (P&I) club, which gave her a chance to handle claims that she did not regularly come across in her day-to-day work as a lawyer. Some interesting ones included wreck removal from a coral reef in Chuuk, with concerns of reef damage, as well as the urgent airlifting of an injured crew on board a vessel off West Africa to a hospital with suitable facilities.
As a lawyer, she has also had to consider novel issues which have not been decided by the Singapore Courts, such as the priority of the maritime lien claimant in an insolvency regime, which also involved tension with other areas of law. On technical matters, she shares, “I have been fortunate to work with clients who take time to share their experience and technical knowledge with me, which adds another dimension to my appreciation of the issues in dispute.”
Haireez can vouch for that, saying that “Sometimes, the disputes that you come across can be very technical in nature and that requires you to work hand-in-hand with experts in varying fields.” However, building your own understanding of the non-legal and technical aspects of shipping matters is also important, because as he says, “You have to be on your toes just about any time of the day, any day of the week.” He elaborates, “Often enough, you get asked to advise on all sorts of conundrums in real-time, as they develop.”
“You get to witness first-hand how your advice that a certain step be taken affect real situations and even sometimes, how battles are won, and disputes are resolved by that advice, long before any formal legal action is commenced.”
-Mohammad Haireez bin Mohammed Jufferie, Partner with Haridass Ho & Partners
Levelling Up: Specialist Accreditation Scheme in Maritime and Shipping Law
Like medical doctors, lawyers called to the bar after graduation may choose to be a general practitioner or become a specialist.
As firm believers of continual personal professional development, Haireez and Siew Chi enrolled themselves in the Specialist Accreditation in Maritime and Shipping Law and were recognised as Accredited Specialists in 2019.
Organised by the Singapore Academy of Law, this scheme confers recognition of a legal practitioner’s expertise and experience in a specialised area of law and offers lawyers a means to hone their skills and knowledge within that specialisation.
Ms Tan had chosen to do it as she saw that the scheme has the major added benefit of acting as a platform for young maritime lawyers to gain visibility.
“I think the recognition is helpful to gain the confidence of first-time clients who may, without other available information, only consider engaging senior maritime practitioners.”, she shares.
Haireez shares the same sentiments, urging, “The accreditation is an independent and objective benchmark of quality and reliability, which is what young maritime lawyers may need in order to compete in an increasingly competitive market.”
We asked Mr Haireez if he would recommend this Accreditation Scheme to other lawyers. His reply? “Without any hesitation.”
To Aspiring Maritime Lawyers
When asked about advice for those interested in a career as a maritime lawyer, Siew Chi had this to say, “Take up internships with maritime law practitioners and find out more about the practice to see if it is suitable for you. Try out internships in shipping or other related companies for an industry perspective. It can be a challenging but also very rewarding practice.”
“The importance of practising in an area of law that you are passionate about is sometimes grossly understated. With maritime law, I think it is easier to develop and inculcate that passion simply because the practice of maritime law is, at least in my view, probably as thrilling and intellectually satisfying as it can get. You therefore have not only a much better chance of lasting the career marathon of a lawyer, but also actually enjoying every step of the process.”, Haireez encourages, based on his own experience.
Registrations are also open for the Maritime and Shipping Law Course organised by the Singapore Academy of Law for legal and industry practitioners who wish to have a better grasp of the practice area.