Wikborg Rein: Owners seek ‘commercial flexibility’

 

Oslo: The slump in shipping has made owners seek greater commercial flexibility in their legal dealings, one of the world’s top maritime lawyers has told Maritime CEO.  

Susanne Munch Thore, managing partner at Norway’s Wikborg Rein, described the current plight facing much of shipping as “deeply concerning” with a lot of people “hurting badly”. 

“The shipping sector still has structural issues around debt, oversupply, and finance to overcome,” she warned. 

Thore noted that while clients look to the law to protect their position, they are equally looking for “commercial flexibility and pragmatic solutions”. 

“This is not always about the letter of the law,” she added. 

This approach is even more important when clients’ business interests are spread over multiple cultures and jurisdictions. During the good times there was massive investment in the global fleet by Asian owners – now estimated at around 50% of vessels owned. “Naturally,” Thore said, “this structural change has meant the ability to act as cultural translators between parties is crucial to getting sustainable legal outcomes.”

The boss of the world’s largest non-UK/US shipping and offshore law firm pointed out that Asia’s rise to the top table of shipping has been mirrored at her firm where expansion in Asia has been significant in recent years, which now has offices in Kobe, Singapore and Shanghai. The investment is paying off, Thore maintained. 

For instance, for the first time more than 50% of Wikborg Rein’s China revenues came from local clients last year. The company has seen 80% revenue growth from China over the last two years. To this end, Geir Sviggum has been appointed as international managing partner based in Shanghai.

Taking a swipe at rival international law firms, Thore said: “As we expanded internationally we made sure this was based on bringing in top local talent.

“Many firms expanded too rapidly and brought in lawyers with limited international  – or even shipping-specific – experience in the boom years – and they are suffering now.”

Watch out for tomorrow’s Friday shipowner profile at Maritime CEO, one of the biggest names in German shipping.  [14/02/13]

 

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