How Maritime Law Works
How to Find a Maritime Lawyer
Admiralty law, which is also called maritime law, is related to actions, injuries or offenses that take place on navigable waters, which are bodies of water used for transportation or commerce. Maritime law encompasses a variety of areas of law including personal injury, products liability, worker’s compensation and commercial and contract law. When looking for a maritime lawyer, it is important to first identify the type of legal work or claim that you have and then choose a maritime lawyer that specializes in your specific area of law.
Identifying Your Maritime/Admiralty Claim
Determine the type of legal claim or legal work that you have.In order to identify the type of maritime lawyer that you need, you have to first identify your underlying legal issue. For example, you could have a claim for injury, breach of contract, or a claim against your employer. You may also need a maritime contract specialist to review your shipping contracts or charter boat contracts. It is important to locate a maritime lawyer that specializes in the area of law specific to your needs.
Decide whether your legal needs are related to your business.Maritime law regulates commercial practices related to shipping, navigation, or any other business practices that are related to work that is based on the operation of a ship. This could include hiring a charter boat for pleasure or entering into shipping contracts with a major shipping firm.
- If you are looking for a lawyer who drafts or reviews contracts, you should look for someone who has a specialty in maritime commercial and/or contract law.
- If your dispute is related to a breach of contract, i.e. someone failed to uphold his or her obligations under a written agreement related to shipping or commercial use of a boat, you will need a maritime lawyer who specializes in contract law and is an experienced trial lawyer.
Consider the source of your injury, if applicable.If you are injured while working on a boat or as a passenger, you may have a claim under maritime law related to personal injury. While these actions are similar to injury actions that happen on land, the actions are governed by separate bodies of laws and rules.
- Injury claims can occur from boating accidents.
- Negligent maintenance of a ship or boat.
- Actions can also be related to injuries caused by defective products, such as a jet ski malfunctioning. This area of law is known as products liability law.
- Seamen or other maritime workers may suffer an injury while working.
- So long as the person was legally allowed to be aboard the ship, and suffered an injury because of someone else’s negligence, that person may have a claim under maritime personal injury or products liability law.
- When choosing an attorney, you need to choose an experienced maritime trial lawyer that specializes in the applicable area of law, such as personal injury or products liability.
Recall whether you were working when injured.Maritime law has specific statutes that govern how to handle injuries to employees that occur during the course of that person’s employment. An employee who was injured while working because of his employer’s negligence may have a claim under the Jones Act. This federal law governs injuries that occurred in the course of a person’s employment while they were working on a vessel in navigation.
- Depending on whether you work as a seaman, longshoreman or on an oil platform, there are different laws that govern employee actions for injuries sustained while working.
- If you were injured during the course of your employment related to a boat or other maritime employment, it is important that you seek out a maritime lawyer that specializes in worker’s compensation cases.
Locating a Maritime Lawyer
Conduct a legal directory search.Since maritime law is a less common legal specialty and due to the number of specializations within maritime law, you should begin your lawyer search using a legal directory such as the Martindale-Hubbell database. This online search allows you to view lawyers by region and by specialty in maritime law. It also allows you to search by maritime specializations such as finance or workers compensation. This type of search should help streamline the first stage of locating a maritime lawyer.
Review maritime law firm rankings.Once you have identified a number of law firms that handle your specific type of maritime claim, you can look at online law firm rankings, such as those conducted by US News, to see which law firms in your area are well regarded.Choosing a high-ranking law firm may be especially important for large commercial cases, where a law firm’s reputation may assist in your negotiations.
- If you have a smaller claim or you have limited resources, it may not be in your best interest to select a large, high-ranking law firm to represent you.
- In these cases, rather than rely on rankings, you should contact state and local bar associations, maritime legal associations, and interview potential law firms and lawyers (as discussed below).
Check with maritime legal associations.In addition to searching legal directories and lawyer rankings, you can contact maritime-specific law associations to assist you in finding a maritime lawyer in your area. These associations are filled with members that primarily practice maritime law. By contacting a law association, such as the Maritime Law Association of the United States, the organization can direct you to maritime-related legal resources as well as attorneys.
Contact local or state legal bar associations.Generally, local or state bar associations provide attorney referral services for individuals looking for a lawyer. You can contact a local or state bar association and request the names of lawyers in your area who practice maritime law. You can also ask whether any of the lawyers identified were ever sanctioned by the bar association or if any complaints were ever filed against them. The American Bar Association has a list of state-by-state contact information for state and local bar associations on its website.
Ask for a referral from family and friends.Unlike other areas of law, most people will not have hired a maritime lawyer. However, if you are part of a boating community or your family and friends are involved in shipping or other maritime-related industries, they may be able to provide you with the name of a maritime lawyer that they used.
- Even if you are looking for a different maritime legal specialty from the attorney referred to you, it may be useful to contact that attorney and ask for a referral to someone else.
- Most attorneys have a network of attorneys in separate specialties to whom they refer cases.
Create a list of potential maritime lawyers.Once you have identified several maritime lawyers that seem to work within the specialty that you need, you should create a list of those lawyers. The next step is to examine each lawyer more closely to see who would be the best fit for your case, your personality, and your budget.
Choosing a Maritime Lawyer
Review the lawyers’ credentials.Once you have narrowed down the list of potential maritime attorneys, you want to closely examine their website and the individual attorneys’ biographies. You want to make sure that maritime law is a significant part of the lawyer’s regular practice and not just one of many areas of law in which the lawyer handles cases. When reviewing individual attorney biographies, look for the following:
- Does the lawyer list maritime law under his or her areas of practice?
- Does the lawyer list a specific maritime law specialty?
- Did the lawyer attend a law school with a strong maritime law program? There are several schools that are known for their maritime law specialty, including law schools at the University of Miami, Tulane University, and Louisiana State University.
- Did the lawyer get a specialization in maritime law? Some lawyers, particularly if they did not study maritime law may get a legal degree beyond their juris doctor (JD), known as an LLM. This is a master’s degree in a specific area of law, such as maritime law. While this is not required to practice maritime law, it can be one factor that you consider in choosing an attorney.
- Does the lawyer list past maritime cases that he or she handled successfully? Attorneys who are promoting an expertise in an area of law will sometimes list cases that they handled successfully on their website.
Contact state bar associations.If you haven’t already done so (as discussed above), you should contact the state bar association in the state that the attorney practices law and ask whether anyone has filed any complaints against the lawyers with whom you are considering working. While a complaint should not completely rule out an attorney, it may be a factor to consider when deciding between two equally qualified lawyers.
Schedule an appointment.After reviewing the lawyers credentials and checking with the state bar association, you should narrow down your list of attorneys to the top three potential candidates. You should then contact each lawyer’s office and make an appointment to discuss your potential case.
- When you make the appointment you should ask whether the attorney offers free consultations with prospective clients.
- If you are calling about a maritime-related personal injury case, the attorney should meet with you for free.
Meet with the attorney.On the day of your appointment, you want to arrive about 10 minutes early so you have a chance to evaluate the office and how the receptionist treats you and other callers or visitors. Make sure that you bring any documents, photos, or other information relevant to your potential case. When you meet with the attorney, consider asking the following questions.
- How long have you practiced maritime law?
- Who is your typical client? You want to determine whether the attorney generally represents individuals or businesses similar to yours.
- On average, how many maritime cases do you handle a year? You should follow up on this question by asking, “what percentage of your overall practice is focused on maritime cases?”
- Ask whether the attorney handles maritime cases specific to your case, such as maritime personal injury, products liability or maritime contract law.
- With whom will I communicate about my case? Communication is an important part of the attorney-client relationship and you want to make sure that you will have access to your attorney when you have questions or concerns.
- Based on the information that I provided, what is the likely outcome of my case? An attorney cannot predict the outcome of your case. By asking this question, you are looking for an honest and open response from the lawyer.
Discuss the fee arrangement.During your initial meeting with the attorney, you should discuss the cost of the case and the attorney’s fees and costs. If an attorney is reviewing or drafting contracts, the attorney may request that you pay a certain amount up front to cover the cost of fees and costs. You should ask the attorney to detail the hourly rate for attorneys and others working on the case and to provide you with an estimate for the overall expense of the case.
- If you are seeking a maritime personal injury lawyer, your case should be accepted on a contingent fee basis. This means that you do not pay anything up front and the attorney gets compensated only if he or she wins or settles the case.
- If a maritime personal injury attorney asks you to pay for the fees up front, you should speak with another attorney.
Make a decision.After meeting with several attorneys, you should decide which attorney to hire. When making this decision, you should consider the attorneys’ experience, demeanor, maritime specialization and fee arrangement. You should also trust your instincts. If you felt more comfortable with one attorney over another or you felt that an attorney seemed to have more time for you than the other attorneys, this should weigh into your decision. You are going to have to work with and trust the lawyer you choose so it is important to find someone with whom you feel comfortable.
- You should be wary of an attorney pushing you to hire him or her immediately. You want someone who recognizes that you need a little bit of time to make a decision and who doesn’t seem desperate for your case.
- If you don’t meet with an attorney during your initial consultation, you should choose a different lawyer to represent you.
Video: Role of the Maritime Lawyer
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