The growth in the legal sector has broadened the areas where a law professional can work. Niche areas like Space Law, Air Law, Fashion Law, Food Law, Maritime law, etc., are becoming more popular.
Kingshuk Halder has been a part of many prestigious educational institutions and a successful corporate lawyer. This interview with him aims to give you an idea of building a career in maritime law in India. The interview highlights his experience working in Deloitte, his experience as an LL.M student at one of the top private university in Gujarat, Gujarat Maritime University, and his job profile as a maritime lawyer.
1. Please tell us a bit about yourself.
I am from Jamshedpur, Jharkhand, and I completed my graduation (B.A. LL.B) in 2016 from Kalinga Institute of Industrial Technology (KIIT) Bhubaneshwar, one of the top private university in Odisha. I specialized in business and corporate laws and got placed with Deloitte India, offices of the U.S. in Hyderabad, through campus recruitment. I worked there for three years. Despite liking the work there, I was always keen on Maritime Law. I appeared for CLAT P.G and got through Gujarat Maritime University (GMU). It was in its nascent stage back then. My batch was the first one-year Maritime Law LL.M batch at GMU.
I also hold an executive MBA degree from IIM Calcutta, which I got through Deloitte.
I resigned from Deloitte after deciding to pursue my Master's. I have also worked at GMS, Dubai, one of the most reputed maritime organizations globally.
2. What was your first job? How did you crack it? What was the experience like?
When I learned about the Big Fours in my law school, I naturally aspired to work in one of them. When Deloitte, Top 10 Best Companies in India came to our University for campus recruitment, eighteen people participated in the selection process, and only four got selected, including me.
The selection process comprised of two rounds of group discussions and three rounds of interviews. Each round was followed by elimination.
Group discussion topics were not specifically legal. They were the kinds of topics one ought to know as a law student and a fresher.
For example, one of the G.D. topics related to EU GDPR and Data Privacy concerns around Facebook. Data Privacy is a hot topic now. Back then, it wasn't. The last round of interview was with the Vice President of Deloitte India, Offices of the U.S.
Experience at Deloitte
I was a part of Deloitte's legal forensics and investigation team that worked on white-collar crime investigations. We worked closely with chartered accountants and checked documents for averting possible white-collar frauds. As a fresher, I was predisposed to a lot of training. There are mandatory training hours that everyone has to complete despite their position in the organization. They have regular courses on leadership, communications, and several other topics, offered by Harvard University, the oldest educational institution in the United States and other reputed institutions. I, too, took many courses, including the Executive MBA.
Deloitte is one of the best places to work for a fresher. They treat their employees with great respect and care. They take a genuine interest in the learning curve of their employees.
They have an alumni base for their ex-employees. They want to hear about how we are doing and attempt to help us despite us not being a part of the organization anymore. Deloitte believes in its employees' holistic development and treats them as a family, and hence it has been one of my best work experiences so far.
3. What exactly is Maritime Law, and why did you decide to quit your corporate job and pursue an LLM in Maritime Law?
From a layman's perspective, 'Maritime' is beyond the shores, beneath and over the sea. Maritime Law governs international trade, shipping, or anything related to the sea. Maritime Law is not a new concept. Even when we did not have airplanes, we had ships and boats to transport things from one place to another. The shipping industry is ancient, and the laws of the same started developing about 500 years ago.
Interested candidates should read more into the 'Lloyds of London' case to understand the origination and genesis of this concept. To summarize, Maritime Law governs international trade, shipping, or anything that relates to the sea. Maritime Law is further divided into public and private international law covered by United Nations conventions of Sea and International Court of Justice.
While one part of Maritime Law deals with policies, the other aspect is the commercial one, which a maritime lawyer typically deals with. The major problem with shipping is the jurisdiction involved. There are instances where one consignment has to be shipped from one port to another. In this journey, there are around 4-5 ports, which entails many jurisdictions in between. If the consignment is damaged while shipping in the sea, who is to tell which jurisdiction the matter falls under? This is where we step in to eliminate loopholes and make internationally substantial contracts to avoid repercussions arising out of confusion in the jurisdiction.
Reason for quitting the corporate job
I had a fascination for the Indian Navy when I was a kid and even thought of pursuing a career on those lines. Even during my law studies, I followed the Indian Navy and its developments. I was surfing through the CLAT website to check for universities that accepted CLAT scores. This was when I saw the name of Gujarat Maritime University on the list. I was pleasantly surprised. I researched some more about the University and decided to go ahead with the LL.M in Maritime Law.
In law school, I was of the impression that a corporate job gives you a sense of financial stability. Hence, I had stopped thinking of anything more until I stumbled upon this course. Soon, things fell into place, and accordingly, I decided to quit my corporate job.
4. Why Gujarat Maritime University for the LL.M?
I could have gone to one of the top public universities in Singapore, the National University of Singapore or any university in the U.K or the west that offers the best courses on Maritime Law. However, I was thrilled when I came across the Government's vision for India's Maritime sector for 2030, involving port sector expansion and the Ministry's notifications for shipping. The fact that this was the only University in the country that provided this course, I could see the potential and the future growth of this University and this domain in India.
The patriot in me could not let go of an opportunity like this. Hence, I decided to pursue my LL.M from GMU. Even when I was at the University, I was taught by naval captains, and the insights that I gained from their expertise were beyond my imagination. I got an opportunity to learn from the best!
5. What is the scope of Maritime Law in India and abroad for an Indian lawyer? What kind of earnings can one expect?
Everything in the world can stop but not international trade. When we talk about scope, we need to know that even when industries were shut because of the Pandemic, shipping was still functioning to an extent. India had oil imports even when the whole country was on lockdown. That is how we got the fuel to run our vehicles all these months. Even in a global pandemic, while everything came to a halt, trade did not.
When the trade doesn't stop, maritime doesn't either. India has many ports; Gujarat has 48 ports, Maharashtra, West Bengal, Chennai - all of these states form a necklace-shaped coastline. Each port is active, whether it is for domestic or international trade. When I talk about international trade, I would recommend that readers visit the Ministry of Trade and Commerce website and look at the trade deals that India signs every day.
Minimum 70- 80% of the trade happens via sea and not air because of a low cost incurred than airfares for shipping consignments. Another thing to know is that not a single ship that enters or leaves the Indian border exists without insurance. This is where Marine Insurance comes into the picture.
Another area and application of the law is the Law of Contract. For trade by sea, several contracts have to be drafted and signed. Maritime Law is not a 9 to 5 job. Due to the admiralty jurisdiction, emergency cases can arise in any country at any point in time, and the lawyer must be prepared.
Maritime is not like any other field. What I mean by Admiralty Jurisdiction is that only the High Courts of coastal areas can entertain a maritime dispute. The High Courts themselves are the lowest courts for maritime disputes, with appeals going to the Supreme Court; district courts do not have a role to play here. The following High Courts in India have jurisdiction in maritime matters-
Even though the court matters are litigation matters, 80-90% of them are covered by Arbitration. A significant reason for this is that often there are many stakeholders involved and many of the maritime law matters have to be dealt with on an urgent basis. Given the way litigation functions, waiting for court hearings can cause a lot more damage to the dispute than that has already ensued.
We almost always have ADR clauses in our contracts as a standard. This has led to the growth of ADR, particularly Arbitration.
The ambit of maritime law is not just confined to the sea, but everything around it as well. Whether it is in India or abroad, maritime lawyers are needed because trading through the sea will never cease.
Concerning the earnings, it is essential to note that there is an international demand for maritime lawyers, and the exposure is also on a global level. Different jurisdictions are involved.
Earning depends on one's caliber and how well one can leverage their skills and knowledge to this field of law. Sometimes, in Arbitration, when the dispute involves a few million dollars, and you charge a certain percentile of the amount, you may perhaps be able to buy yourself a mansion! However, that is not all.
There is a lot of work here, and nothing is as merry as one might deem it to be. A maritime lawyer doesn't get to be a part of the voyages that ships make, as a few may think. Instead, we are there to aid the voyage. This profession pays well if you are consistent with updating your knowledge bank with international treaties and policies. Having done this, the sky is the limit to one's financial prosperity!
6. What kind of work can a Maritime Lawyer expect? Are there location constraints and travel requirements?
One needs to understand that several sectors are involved in the maritime industry. The work depends on what field one has chosen. A few sectors to name are:
- Shipowning companies
- Protection and Indemnity (P&I) Clubs
- Law firms
- Ship recycling industry
- Charters of vessels
All of these sectors work collectively in maritime, but their work profile differs.
Law Firms deal with a lot of things altogether owing to the man force available.
A maritime lawyer can expect insurance work if he's into insurance or examining indemnity if working under P&I Club; each piece of work has different merits. The lawyer needs to be thorough with his interest in maritime law, whether it is insurance, contracts, solving disputes under Private International Law, etc. However, this is not all.
One has to know the ship, the exterior, and its interior, to understand a few cases that may arise due to dysfunction in the vessel. While legal knowledge is necessary, interest in the vessel and understanding its function and technicalities is also equally important.
As maritime lawyers, we do not get a chance to work directly with Navy JAG officers, as a few may think. The Indian Navy has a different branch for lawyers working for them; we get in touch with them wherever there is a case that requires it. Otherwise, a maritime lawyer has nothing to do with any other sector but his own.
Working conditions and travel requirement
A maritime advocate or an arbitrator might have to travel internationally in case of a dispute; it depends on the fate of the case that the lawyer is handling.
Furthermore, it is also essential to note that the lawyers involved in maritime law work offshore (office set-up) and do not live in ships. The permissions to enter vessels are governed by strict International Maritime Organization (IMO) standards.
7. What is your suggestion for students/professionals who want to pursue Maritime Law?
Check where your interest lies. Maritime is something which is not very common. It will require your attention and time. Consider it only if your interest lies with respect to ships, sea, cargo damage, insurance, contracts, etc.
One should be aware of international law, international treaties, etc. The jurisdiction in maritime law is global, and thus, an interested candidate should have a broad spectrum of knowledge and be open to expanding their interests. This is a nice domain to work in, and I can very well state that sea is the limit if one decides to pursue it in the long run.