INTERNATIONAL LL.M. PROGRAMS: SWANSEA UNIVERSITY, HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON LAW SCHOOL, WALES, UK
I sincerely thank Barış Soyer, Head of the Institute of International Shipping and Trade Law, for answering my questions about Master of Laws (LL.M.) degrees in the areas of commercial and maritime laws. GHK
GHK: Professor Soyer, Swansea University – Hillary Rodham Clinton School of Law enjoys a strong reputation with its LL.Ms that are top-ranked for Admiralty/Maritime LL.M. programs in the United Kingdom. Could you tell us a bit about Swansea’s maritime traditions? What aspects do you believe are most important to the programs’ success?
BS: Thank you for this opportunity. Maritime/shipping/trade law have been developed at Swansea for more than 20 years as distinct areas of specialization. The driving force behind this development is the Institute of International Shipping and Trade Law. This is a research center that also engages in training and teaching and is well known world-wide. This programme is largest of its kind in the UK (and possibly world) and in my opinion three factors are key to its success: i) its academic staff (who are cutting-edge scholars in their fields); ii) its connection with legal practice and shipping markets; and iii) the teaching which is very much practice-led.
GHK: You have mentioned before that Swansea’s School of Law is in the process of devising a new LL.M., which interlinks technology with shipping and commerce, and it sounds very exciting. Could you tell us more about this new program?
BS: Indeed. Today digitalization and artificial intelligence play significant roles especially in commercial settings. We have huge expertise in commercial field and in the last 5-6 years we have engaged in several projects which explore how disruptive technologies can be accommodated within the current legal frameworks. Essentially, early this year we took the decision to bring these together under a new LLM Programme named “Legal Tech and Commercial Law”. The primary objective of this new programme will be to provide students with the most cutting-edge, research-based and industry-backed insights into legal tech and commercial law.
GHK: Speaking of technology, what new technology could be introduced to assist maritime lawyers in their practice? How do you think new technology impacts young lawyers and maritime law practitioners?
BS: Technology is a means to an end! So, I have no doubt that any technological development which will enhance efficiency will be used in the commercial world and equally in the legal setting. For example, law firms are using various programmes that can assist the tedious task of sorting relevant documents utilised in litigation. Similarly, it is very likely that blockchain technology will be used in near future as part of insurance underwriting and issuing bills of lading.
GHK: Could you please explain the weight or emphasis given to each part of a student’s application, such as GPA, language score, a letter of motivation, and letters of recommendation? How should an applicant from Turkey address a low GPA or lack of work experience in the field of maritime law in an application to Swansea’s LLM in International Maritime Law or LLM in International Commercial and Maritime Law programs?
BS: Yes. GPA is an important part of the application but we do not make a decision solely based on that criteria. We could certainly admit a candidate who has a GPA slightly lower than we require as long as s/he can show additional attributes (i.e. work experience, attendance in training courses in the field). A well-drafted and evidenced personal statement could help as well
GHK: For those who think pursuing an LLM in maritime/admiralty law, do you think it is better if they choose to enroll right after their undergrads, or should they consider working for a few years before an LL.M. to gain the most benefit out of the program?
BS: Difficult to say. Each has its own advantages. We find that students coming directly from the University find it easier to adapt to learning at PGT level. Equally, those who have some work experience have a lot to bring to the table and can understand commercial issues better.
GHK: What are the scholarships and financial assistance available to a non-European applicant from Turkey for studying in the UK, or, in particular, Swansea’s School of Law?
BS: Our International Office offers excellence scholarships (up to £ 4000). As Law School we also launched “Inspiring Futures Scholarship” (£ 3000) which are open to all overseas students.
GHK: Maritime law is a highly specialized, niche legal practice of law that can have varying applications to other law practices. However, young lawyers trying to establish a maritime practice through self-teaching or after a maritime law class may have a hard time. What do you think is the best way for young lawyers interested in maritime law to get into the practice?
BS: Being “open minded” is the key. It is very normal to start in an insurance company as claims assistant or executive and then move on to a law firm. Equally, there is no problem if you start working as an in-inhouse lawyer for a company first. From there, you can develop your links and move on to law firms. I know many graduates who moved on to law firms after working at insurance companies or shipping companies as in house lawyer for some time.
GHK: What are the job opportunities for lawyers specializing in maritime and admiralty law who have earned an LL.M. in International Maritime Law or International Commercial and Maritime Law from Swansea’s School of Law? What do you think is the outlook for the next few years considering the economy affected by the COVID-19 pandemic?
BS: Lots of opportunities are open to graduates. Traditionally graduates used to aim to work in law firms specializing in this field. This is popular of course but nowadays larger companies have their inhouse lawyers and many of our graduates work for shipping firms, insurers and banks as inhouse lawyers. Also, P & I Clubs (liability insurers) provide work opportunities to graduates as claims executives. We also see some of our graduates working for loss adjusters or general average adjusters as legal knowledge on maritime claims is a very sought asset.
Actually, legal and shipping sector have not been adversely affected from the pandemic. In fact, the work of lawyers increased dramatically as several disputes relating to the pandemic started to land on their desks. If you like to see hard evidence, check out the IISTL-Graduate-Prospects-8 on Swansea’s website.
GHK: I understand that you studied your BA Ankara University School of Law in Turkey, and now you have more than twenty years of teaching experience, both in the university classroom and within the maritime industry, numerous publications, and awards to name a few. Could you share your thoughts on some steps proposed as key to starting a career in maritime law for our young lawyers reading this article from Turkey?
BS: I suppose three virtues are important: a) hard work; b) willingness to learn (not only law but practice and other cultures (this is very important in maritime world given the international nature of the business) and c) keeping an open mind as you never know when the next opportunity will come from.
GHK: Professor Soyer, thank you for sharing your time and unique perspective! Lastly, is there any additional candid advice or insight you would have for our young lawyers who are entering the field or already are in the field of maritime law?
BS: Think globally. This is a rewarding occupation especially if you like to deal with people from other cultures and enjoy travel and interaction with people from different backgrounds. Also, knowing foreign languages is a great asset! It is never too late to start learning one or two!!