Wednesday, 21 January 2015

“Shipping has its own special language” – Ince & Co’s Victoria Ogden

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“Shipping has its own special language” – Ince & Co’s Victoria Ogden

Victoria Ogden is a solicitor at Ince & Co, a firm renowned for its maritime law practice. Victoria qualified at the firm in 2011 and regularly advises on shipping-related disputes. Here, she tells Lex about the volunteer work she did as a student to strengthen her skills and boost her CV, the specialised nature of maritime law and the extensive international scope of her practice.



Why shipping?

I’ve always loved anything to do with the sea and shipping. I’m a keen sailor and I was in the Royal Naval Reserves at university, an experience I loved. There was never anything else for me, I always wanted to work in the shipping industry. Also, aside from a broad passion for the industry, its strong commercial focus was also a particular appeal.

Why Ince & Co?

When I was applying for law firms it was quite straightforward because at the time there were only about five shipping firms to choose from – this was before the emergence of the smaller boutiques. I did a vacation placement here in 2007 during my second year at university. I had a fantastic two weeks where I did a huge variety of work and met many of the firm’s solicitors and partners. I loved the firm and applied for a training contract from that. I also had a vacation placement at a large City firm. I was offered training contracts from both, but my heart was in shipping!

Did you enjoy your training?

The training contract at Ince & Co was a great experience. It was hard at times and there were some late nights, but generally it was brilliant. Across my four seats I sat with a shipping partner specialising in pollution, a partner specialising in political risk in my second seat, then with a partner who specialised in energy and shipbuilding, and finally with an aviation partner in my fourth seat. So I had a huge variety of seats and got exposure to those different practice areas. As a trainee at Ince you keep your cases, so you don’t take on a case and then put it back down when your seat finishes. In that way you start working as a lawyer here from day one. I still have cases now which I picked up as a trainee.

What exactly is ‘wet’ and ‘dry’ shipping?

Wet shipping is the “more exciting” admiralty work arising out of maritime accidents such as fires, groundings, collisions, salvage and pollution. Dry shipping is the more contract-based work, such as charter party disputes.

How ‘different’ is maritime law? Does it require highly specialised practitioners?

The important thing for a shipping lawyer is that you have to be very commercially aware. You have to understand your clients’ business in a way which perhaps a more general lawyer might not need to. Shipping has its own special language. It can seem quite daunting, maybe, to people trying to get into it, but you really have to understand the industry. At Ince & Co we also have a team of in-house mariners and that is a hugely beneficial resource for us solicitors. We can ask them about difficult technical issues as they arise.

Are you and your colleagues often called to respond immediately to crisis situations?

Our admiralty team may get a call from a client saying ‘my ship is on fire’ and an admiralty manager is sent out to the casualty immediately. They have their passports on them in the office at all times so they are ready to be put on the first plane to the other side of the world! It’s so important from a crisis management point of view to get somebody on the ground as soon as possible.

Is your practice international in scope?

Almost 100% of my work is international. I work with the P&I clubs whose members (ship owners) are based all over the world. I do a lot of work in the Asia Pacific: Thailand, Japan, Hong Kong, China, and also Turkey and the Middle East – it’s a huge international practice.
We have an extensive network of international offices which enables us to provide a completely global service to our clients. We also have a global network so you can guarantee that no matter how obscure the jurisdiction, somebody at Ince & Co will know a lawyer there.

What has been the highlight moment of your career so far?

I was part of the team working on a very large shipping claim, arising out of a grounding of a ship in Japan in 2006, which went to trial in the High Court for seven weeks in 2013. I worked flat out for over six months beforehand to prepare for the trial, which involved a large number of experts, factual witnesses and Counsel. I was involved in all aspects of handling the case, including working on disclosure, expert reports, witness statements, pleadings, skeleton arguments and trial bundles. It was an enormous team effort and bringing the case to trial required project management as much as legal skills! Our clients' claims succeeded in full and being part of that team was definitely the highlight of my career so far. The case is not over yet as it is subject to appeal, so watch this space.

If you could alter or scrap one law, what would it be and why?

This is a very geeky answer! The rules that litigators have to work within are the civil procedure rules. Those rules dictate how we have to do things, time limits etc. They are quite difficult to work with and not very user-friendly. Because they are contained in different places, it can be difficult to find an answer to what seems a straightforward question. I would probably rewrite the civil procedure rules to make them more user-friendly.

Do you feel you have an adequate work/life balance?

It is very variable. There are tough months where you won’t get out of the office ‘til late most nights, and then you’ll have really good months. It is worth remembering that so many fantastic experiences come with our work, so even when you’re working hard you still get some amazing opportunities. There are easier careers in terms of hours but you have to take it all in the round.
The people at Ince are very supportive. We have an open door policy so you can just walk into a room and talk with a partner. You do feel supported – even when things are very busy that support is there.

What advice would you offer to prospective shipping lawyers?

With specific regard to shipping, you have to understand the shipping industry. Get involved in it in any way that you can. Think about alternatives and things you may be able to do which will help you to understand the different elements of the industry. For example, consider seeking work experience with a ship broker, a P&I Club or a ship owner/operator, to gain commercial exposure. If you can’t do work experience in the industry try to stay up to date with its main developments.

Finally, what general advice would you share for prospective trainees?

You need to get as much experience as you can and as early as you can – it’s never too early to start. I started when I was 15, and that was a week with a barrister which kick-started my passion for a legal career. Make conscious choices to do things which are going to benefit your career at an early stage. For example, at university I spent three hours a week volunteering at both the student advice centre and the housing clinic, advising students on their tenancy contracts and various other problems they were having. As I mentioned earlier I also joined the Royal Naval Reserves at university to help me prepare for a career in shipping.
Not only do these things help you gain the transferrable skills that you will need for life as a lawyer, they will also help your CV stand out. Think outside the box, don’t just think ‘I have to apply for formal vacation schemes’ – you have to do your research and keep your finger on the pulse. For example, some firms offer opportunities to get involved in other ways through campus manager schemes, open days, mentoring or informal work experience. Take a proactive approach to your career planning. No one is going to come to you and say ‘this is what you need to do’ and ‘there’s this opportunity, do you want to apply for it’. Stay focused on your goals and don’t give up!

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