Energy, transport & infrastructure law: area of practice
Solicitors in this field get involved in commercial drafting, acquisitions, litigation, arbitration, real estate and employment law. Lawyers tend to specialise in either transactional work or commercial dispute work. Transactional lawyers might advise on the purchase of a logistics company by an international transport conglomerate. Dispute specialists might advise clients on cases involving contaminated cargo disputes, ship collisions, pollution claims and sale of goods disputes (concerning the purchase of oil, sugar, metal and grains).
Lawyers advise large vehicle manufacturers, charterers, commodities traders, super yacht owners, train companies, bus companies, freight forwarders, hauliers, marine insurers, motor insurers – some are household names. Depending on the size of transaction or case, you might be working with a team of four or fifteen colleagues. Lawyers in this field have the opportunity to get out of the office and meet clients: last week I spent one day going to a shipping client in Liverpool, another day in Paris taking instructions from French clients, and another talking to the press about the effect of Ebola on international trade and the impact of Ukraine sanctions on the transportation of goods.
Lawyers work longer hours, with a few all-nighters and weekend work, just before a case goes to trial or arbitration, or near the closure of a deal. I had a trial in February, which wasn’t a particularly big case, but the team worked until midnight on three days in the build up to the trial. My typical day is 8.30 am to 6.45 pm, but I often put in another two hours at home once my children are in bed.
Recent issues that aspiring trainee solicitors should be be aware of
Aspiring solicitors in this field should be aware of technological advances such as driverless cars – these cars will transform the whole notion of liability, moving from fault-based liability (where a driver’s negligence is an issue) to product liability (where a fault with the vehicle equipment itself will cause the damage). We are familiar with the situation where if a car has an accident, it is usually down to the owner. With the introduction of driverless cars, the question will become: is it the car component or the owner who is at fault?
Cyber-crime is a growing area. Ships and planes are now reliant on technology. What happens if there are flaws and defects in that technology? What happens if the systems are hacked? Recent issues to affect the sector include the Volkswagen emissions scandal and the explosion in the Port of Tianjin, which destroyed thousands of cars stored at the facility. Other potential areas to be aware of: electronic ticketing, poor road and rail infrastructure, road congestion, lack of investment, and the potential third runway at Heathrow.
How recession-proof is this legal area of practice?
In the shipping and marine insurance sectors, consolidation is a key challenge. Commodity prices have continued to nosedive, market overcapacity has put huge pressure on freight rates and political upheaval has helped drive down economic growth in certain areas of the world. Low oil prices have led to an unprecedented downturn in the offshore sector and geopolitical instability has also contributed to limited economic growth. These factors are responsible for a rise in litigation. The process of consolidation brings some concern to those in the transport sector. With mergers and consolidation in general, there is inevitably a reduction in staff and this could lead to the dilution of expertise.
What is the likely impact of Brexit on the energy, transport and infrastructure legal sector?
The government is striving for a customs arrangement with the EU that allows trade to be as seamless as possible. Few consider that this is possible. Goods are unlikely to move as smoothly as they do presently within the EU. Those involved in road transport and logistics have diverging views. Some want better regulation and a reduction of red tape; others want consistency across EU countries when applying rules not just with the movement of goods but also with the movement of people. A borderless EU has enabled large influxes of cheap, skilled labour to enter the UK without restriction and on demand from Eastern Europe. Curbs on freedom of movement may lead to a skills crisis.
Successful energy, transport and infrastructure solicitors in this field have...
- Commercial acumen – a strong commercial understanding of the market you are operating in.
- Tenacity and resilience.
Life as a trainee solicitor in an energy, transport and infrastructure department
Trainees help run and manage seminars and events for clients. They often research and write the articles and publications that firms publish internally on their websites and that also appear in the national press. We ask trainees to research areas of law, eg recently, I asked a trainee to research the rules around serving a claim form and particulars in Russia. Trainees prepare basic letters of claim (the document that is sent before a claim form is issued), draft proceedings for low-value cases, prepare bundles for court, write the first draft of a notice of arbitration, and attend client meetings to take notes and contribute.
Types of law practised
JONATHAN MOSS is the head of transport, marine & trade sectors at DWF LLP. He has a degree in history and French from Manchester University, and a degree in law from Queen Mary, University of London. He completed a masters in litigation practice in France at The College of Law (now known as The University of Law).