How do I Become a Maritime Lawyer?

Felipe McGuire

How you become a maritime lawyer depends largely on where you want to practice maritime law, also called admiralty law. In most places, practicing maritime law does not require special certification or licensing. Because maritime law, however, tends to involve much unique and international law, special training and education are likely to be necessary in order to ensure competence, which can be quite different than certification.

Specialized schooling can be a requirement for becoming a maritime lawyer.
Specialized schooling can be a requirement for becoming a maritime lawyer.

The process of becoming a lawyer varies widely from country to country. In many places, it includes specialized schooling followed by an exam of some sort, often referred to as the Bar Exam or just The Bar. People who pass this exam must generally join some sort of professional association. In the United States (US), certification to practice law operates on a state-by-state basis, whereas many nations license lawyers on a national level.

The Constitution gave federal courts admiralty and maritime jurisdiction.
The Constitution gave federal courts admiralty and maritime jurisdiction.

In most countries, being certified to the general practice of law is sufficient to allow a person to become a maritime lawyer. It is worth noting, however, that up until 1966 in the US, practicing maritime law did require a separate license, and some countries may still hold such requirements. Also, under the Constitution of the United States, maritime law falls under federal jurisdiction. While most maritime issues may now be tried in state courts, it is important for maritime lawyers to be admitted to practice in federal court. Admission to the Federal Bar requires membership in the American Bar Association (ABA), but no extra education or test.

To become a maritime lawyer in any meaningful sense, you typically should focus on your education. Maritime law is a fairly unique area of law that in most of the world remains subject to specialized statutes and court systems. Most law schools offer few classes on maritime law in their basic curriculum. Becoming a maritime lawyer is therefore often best accomplished by pursuing a Master of Laws degree, or LL.M., in maritime law.

An LL.M. is an advanced law degree that requires a focused study of one particular area of law. There are numerous law schools around the world that offer LL.M.s in maritime or admiralty law. Most lawyers who describe themselves as maritime lawyers have an LL.M. in maritime law.

Due to the specialized nature of maritime law, many regions have special associations or organizations specifically aimed toward maritime practice. Membership in these organizations is rarely mandatory for maritime practice. In some places, however, admission to such organizations is mandatory before one may describe him- or herself as a specialist in maritime law. It is also extremely common for a new lawyer seeking to become a maritime lawyer to find a mentor in the field and work as his or her intern or apprentice for a period of time in order to learn the more practical aspects of becoming a maritime lawyer.

An aspiring lawyer must take and pass the bar exam.
An aspiring lawyer must take and pass the bar exam.

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Discussion Comments


@Terrificli -- Living in an area where maritime law is regularly practiced might help, but I do not think it is necessary. Going to a law school with good classes in maritime law will go a long way to helping people specialize in maritime law.

Here is a bit of trivia, in fact. Bill Clinton taught maritime law when he was a professor at the University of Arkansas School of Law. That college is located in the Ozark Mountains and is nowhere near an ocean.

The point is that you can find some decent maritime law classes in surprising places. Do not assume you need to attend a law school that is near an ocean.


I suspect that becoming a successful maritime lawyer is about the same as anything else. You just get enough cases in that area that you eventually become an expert in that area. If you want to get an LLM after law school, then you can do that but I don't think that is necessary.

Oh, and it might help to go to a law school located in an area where maritime law is practiced. Clerk for a law firm in that area that specializes in maritime law and you can pick up some things. Think of it as an apprenticeship and you will do fine.

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