Energy, transport & infrastructure law: area of practice

Advances in technology have had a big impact on this area of legal practice, says Jonathan Moss – head of transport, marine & trade sectors at national law firm DWF LLP.

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Potential areas to research for training contract interviews: driverless cars, electronic ticketing, road congestion and the potential third runway at Heathrow.

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. Previously I have: been in Freetown, Sierra Leone on a trial; had meetings in Belfast and Dublin; lectured to marine underwriters in London; and talked to the press about crewless ships, artificial intelligence in marine insurance, and acts of terrorism and their impact on insurance premiums.

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 once had a trial, 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 have often put in another two hours at home once my children were 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.

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

  • Contract.
  • Tort.
  • Shipping.
  • Insurance.
  • Commercial.

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).

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