Setting a New Precedent in Maritime Law

Redefining Maritime Law

SOUTH AFRICA, Cape Town: Seeking to redefine the way in which she practices as a maritime lawyer, Anneke Whelan has taken the bold step to establish her own legal firm, Anneke Whelan Attorneys, and spoke to Maritime Review about what she aims to offer the sector.

“The legal profession is characterised by conformity, adherence to precedent, leverage, and preservation of the status quo. Most firms are undifferentiated, offering the same practice capability at similar prices. In order to change I had to leave (my former employer),” she explains.

Whelan, who grew up far from the country’s coastline, was introduced to shipping matters in the late 1990s as a lawyer at a firm in Cape Town.

“Shipping matters came across my desk and piqued my interest. I telephoned Prof John Hare on a July afternoon with a view of enrolling for the Shipping Law Master’s degree offered by UCT (University of Cape Town) in January the following year. He suggested I join the class that evening. The rest is history,” Whelan recalls of her initial introduction to maritime law.

Admitting to having always had a love for the ocean with a background as a SCUBA diving instructor as well as holidays to remote SCUBU diving destinations, Whelan sees her affinity to the practice of maritime law as a natural step.

With a Masters’ Degree in Shipping Law and her then employer not keen to set up a shipping division, Whelan decided to go solo for awhile before joining Shepstone & Wylie in 2009.

“It wasn’t long thereafter that the Alina II, a bulk carrier berthed at one of the two berths at the Langebaan Iron Ore terminal in Saldanha Bay after loading a cargo of 175,000 mt of Sishen iron ore fines, took on a port list and was down by the head,” she says highlighting one of the early incidents that resulted in a five-year long case for the maritime team.

“Investigations revealed an ingress of water into the No 2 double bottom port ballast tank caused by a fracture at frames 227-228 that had caused the list. A plethora of contentious and non-contentious issues arose that took us all the way the to the Supreme Court of Appeal, with a couple of turns in London attending arbitration proceedings in Fleet Street over a period of some five years,” she explains.

Having gained significant experience during her time at Shepstone & Wylie, Whelan is now a Commercial Litigation expert with Maritime Law expertise. “I advise owners, charters and their insurers on issues of liability and the like in both South Africa and Namibia,” she says.

But with convictions to change some of the underlying structural practices in many of the established law firms, Whelan says that now is the time for the legal profession to undergo broad, deep and enduring changes.

Explaining, she notes: “I provide my clients with an estimate of the costs associated with the provision of work and bill in accordance with the agreement reached. There are no surprises when our client receives an invoice from us.”

She believes that this will create a more “palatable” pricing structure for clients. “Clients understandably demand more choice, transparency, competition, price predictability, and direct access to the service provider,” she adds.

“We believe that it is important to engage the appropriate resources and expertise to produce results that achieve long-term solutions to our clients’ challenges. Such solutions must be efficient, risk-appropriate, and cost-effective. They must add value to the client. Service providers that can consistently deliver legal services this way - whether employing internal resources or collaborating with others - will be dominant players.”

With a small team that currently consists of an Associate, Michelle Schoeman as well as a paralegal, Chantal Harris, Anneke Whelan Attorneys has set itself the challenge of gearing up to deliver long-term satisfaction that promotes trust; and that will expand at a pace dictated by clients’ needs.

see Maritime Review Africa article here