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Solicitors' practice areas

Shipping & trade

Marinos Papadopoulos

Watson Farley & Williams LLP

University: Democritus University of Thrace, Greece
Undergraduate degree: Law

Shipping law tends to fall into two areas: contentious and non-contentious. On the contentious side, ‘dry’ shipping involves contractual issues such as bill of lading and charterparty disputes, whereas ‘wet’ shipping tends to involve issues of international law, tort and jurisdiction (eg, collisions). Non-contentious work includes ship finance (eg, lending and security) and the drafting of commercial agreements (eg, charters and shipbuilding contracts). Whereas the shipping industry is by its nature international, London remains the pre-eminent venue for dispute resolution and marine insurance, and English law is the legal system of choice.

Marinos Papadopoulos was destined for a life in shipping, and not just because his name translates directly to “‘young man of the sea”. Having followed a “non-traditional route” into law, qualifying first as a lawyer in Greece and then as a solicitor in England and Wales, Marinos now sits in a unique position within the shipping team at the firm. When asked why he chose to specialise in this sometimes turbulent practice area, Marinos explains that “[shipping is] a huge industry in Greece”. He adds: “My family has been serving in this industry in various capacities for many years. So, it was an interesting area for me and one I was familiar with from an early stage.”

After first joining Watson Farley & Williams LLP (WFW) in Athens, Marinos began to delve deeper into life as a shipping lawyer. “All shipping deals are multi-jurisdictional” – meaning that not only is his firm truly international, but his practice is too. In fact, WFW “has the largest dedicated maritime legal practice in the world, allowing me the privilege of working on headline deals”. Operating in this international space is something that Marinos not only loves, but is also proud of.

Steering the ship

Now a partner at WFW London, Marinos specialises in non-contentious shipping and shipping finance, acting mainly on behalf of private equity funds and shipowners. As a partner he gets to oversee numerous projects running concurrently. On a day-to-day basis Marinos has to “prioritise the urgency of the various matters and emails that have come in overnight”, while his more senior position means that he now spends time leading a team of colleagues and trainees. 

With great seniority comes great responsibility, and Marinos reflects on how his job has evolved from when he first joined the firm as an associate in Athens: “Now I also focus a lot on bringing in new clients and generating more business from existing ones.” This feeds into a part of Marinos’ work as a lawyer he feels should be emphasised when entering this practice area. He highlights the need to not only be commercially aware, but also how commercial you need to be in your advice in order to make a deal happen, something that’s now part of his daily life.  

You're liaising with international counsel, the client, the other party and the lawyers in the other party. This aspect of a transactional shipping lawyer’s life is very enjoyable

The latest and greatest in shipping

In terms of the future, Marinos outlines some topics he thinks are on the radar of those working in the shipping space, primarily how the industry “is facing a changing landscape in the coming years” due to the latest environmental goals set out by governments globally, which he describes as the “very challenging emissions targets set for 2030 and the net-zero emission target for 2050”. The recent focus for businesses on environmental, social and governmental (more widely known as ‘ESG’) issues certainly hasn’t left this global practice area behind. From greenhouse gas emissions and water pollution to anti-corruption and due diligence, environmental issues remain at the forefront of this area of law. Marinos says: “This creates a lot of developments for lawyers and various players in the shipping industry focusing on how to meet these environmental targets and how to make shipping more sustainable.”

Despite its sometimes stolid reputation, shipping is in fact embracing “new technology and alternative fuels”. Marinos considers the role technology could play when it comes to creating a sustainable industry.  Although he’s “unsure whether there’s going to be one solution that fulfils all sectors of the shipping industry”, he highlights the recent developments in various new technologies and alternative fuels. “On the more commercial shipping side of things, there’s a developing interest in investments in offshore wind farm installation vessels, which is interesting.” Evidently, shipping is a diverse international practice area, both on and offshore. For Marinos, the latest developments in his practice make shipping “very interesting at the moment”, although, as he later adds, “at the same time very challenging”. 

Getting your foot on deck

Although all practice areas are unique, few offer the chance to become a real expert in a given industry such as this one. For Marinos, understanding the needs and drivers of the client is an essential part of his practice: “I think commercial awareness is a particular skill that you need to develop. It's important because it helps you to understand the needs of the client and this is the ultimate target.” Equally, specialising in an area such as non-contentious shipping means “you need to have patience and persistence” and “be able to differentiate between work and personal life”. There’s no doubt that this is a tough path filled with continuous interaction. Marinos says: “You're liaising with foreign counsel, the client, the other party and the lawyers in the other party. This aspect of a transactional shipping lawyer’s life is very enjoyable.” 

Finally, Marinos offers one piece of advice he wishes he’d known when starting out as a solicitor, and that’s getting to grips with the business development side of the legal world. For him, it’s all about “going out and networking, gaining new clients, gaining more work from existing clients”. Combined with the skills above, you’ll be ready to set sail towards your legal career in no time.