What was one highlight matter you have worked over the course of the past two years?
That would definitely be the Hin Leong/Ocean Tankers matter, where we were appointed by the judicial managers. We are involved in selling off the vessels by the judicial manager but were appointed prior to COVID-19. Prior to the pandemic, such sale and purchase transactions would be conducted in person, where buyers and sellers would meet for closings. But the pandemic took hold in the midst of this massive matter and we had to move very quickly and adapt, then came the virtual meetings, and we migrated entirely from in person negotiations to a virtual space. Imagine the amount of trust required, millions of dollars change hands, and sometimes the seller won’t even know if the person in the virtual meeting is the person authorised to sign the documents. It marked a huge change, not just for lawyers but for the industry as a whole. Going forward, travelling for closings might just get cut off at the knee, the pandemic has proven that we can do things differently.
What were some of the first streams of concerns that came in from your clients at the onset of the pandemic?
The first stream of queries that came in were for advice and opinion for ships and vessels calling in docks upon delivery of cargo. At that time, nobody knew what the virus was and what to expect. But there were significant delays in ships going into ports, delivering cargo. So, we became the first port of call for force majeure advice.
As the situation stabilised, issues became more of an operational one. It quickly became necessary for the shipping community to adopt swathes of clauses and shipping operators, owners all needed advice to incorporate relevant clauses into their respective agreements. Change of crew, location to receive delivery of vessels, contract extension, that all became significant problems and top priorities for our clients.
How much do you think technology has impacted the shipping sector?
I think technology will play a critical role in decarbonisation, there’s no doubt about that. The shipping community has set its target, objective and ambition, and technology will help the sector get there. But the sector also really needs a new technological breakthrough, at the moment, I think there isn’t any yet, new tech for new vessels are prohibitively expensive and that all adds to the costs that the shipping community already has to bear. But commitment to decarbonisation and ESG more generally has become so important, financing banks are starting to look at ESG compliance as a factor for investments with potential borrowers, it’s not something anyone can avoid. But that also overlaps with other high-risk areas like cybersecurity and there are so many layers to that. For example, you cannot deal with cybersecurity without considering data protection, these are the overlaps that lawyers will really have to help their shipping clients deal with.
You have been a shipping lawyer for decades, what do you think firms today should be focussing on to deal with talent retention?
Young lawyers must find the work rewarding in order to want to stay on. But I believe equally important is the offer of work-life-balance, sometimes that may be hard to control due to client demands but I think JTJB has done quite well on that front.