Friday 5 July 2024

Finding my Sea Legs

Image by Jaesung An from Pixabay

I am working on a file that involves admiralty law, a practice area I had hoped to encounter this summer. What interests me about admiralty law is its reach and impact span every corner of the globe. Where there is water, there is shipping, where there is shipping, there are contracts, and where there are contracts, there are terms limiting liability. That's the prominent takeaway from my work on this assignment (so far anyway).

The incident at hand is not exactly a marine disaster, but it involves the carriage of goods by sea, nonetheless. The assignment has me feeling as though one part of me is on solid ground, while another is adrift at sea. It’s not as though I’ve capsized in a hurricane, it’s more of an issue of finding my sea legs.

Although Admiralty Law 101 is not a course offered at my school, I waded into the waters as best I could. 

Questions on my mind included: what are the relevant statutes, what are customary practices of the trade, what is a “bill of lading,” what happens in case of conflict of laws, and does this specific issue exist in the case law? After scouring the depths of WestLaw and Canlii, I felt as though I had assembled a watertight understanding of how the issue could be dealt with.

I completed what I thought I was supposed to do and met with the assigning lawyer, eager to discuss my findings. While I may have been on the right tack (pun intended), the lawyer’s words took the wind out of my sails: "Does this help our client?” In other words, all the research I immersed myself in may have been on point, but was it useful to the case? That's the sort of reframing I needed.

I suppose this is what my law professors have been implying when they have said “You need to learn to think like a lawyer.” As in, it’s one thing to “know” the law, but it’s another thing entirely to apply it in practice. Though it would be nice to learn as much as possible about this area of law, it's not practical. More importantly, it's not helpful. I am grateful for this interaction, as it helped me chart a new course of research on the matter. In the future, I will formulate a more concise research question before diving in.

While I may not land on the other side of this assignment as a decorated maritime lawyer, I have been exposed to an area of practice I would not otherwise have encountered in law school. I'm glad that my summer experience has so quickly expanded my legal lexicon, and I have my eyes trained on the horizon for more of these experiences.

by Joseph C.