What does an aviation lawyer do?

As a specialist in aviation litigation and regulation, much of my time is spent in preparing cases both in the UK and abroad for trial or arbitration, On the less contentious side, I am often engaged in mediations between an airline client and a third party, or advising on a huge range of regulatory matters.

Paul Phillips
 © Stephenson Harwood

How did you get in to this sector?

As a young lawyer I started working for Nigeria Airways, as it was then known, and I realised having spent three months working in Lagos on one case and going at it hammer and tongs with the law firm on the other side for a year, that aviation litigation combines the intellectual stimulation of a violent game of chess, mixed with the fascinating world of the airline business.

It gives you the opportunity to travel and work abroad for stints. It sort of snowballed from there, and I worked for Paramount Airways, then picked up my first huge client, American Airlines, and it really took off from there.

What sort of activities does your law firm get involved in?

I work in a large international law firm (over 500 staff), with an extensive network of offices and affiliate offices across the globe. We are what is called a full-service law firm, so we have expertise in and a client base across all commercial sectors. Our aviation group deals with every aspect of the aviation industry, from aviation finance and leasing, through to corporate work such as airline privatisation, mergers and acquisitions, as well as the more contentious side like insured claims and accident litigation.

What sort of qualifications will somebody need to develop a career with a firm like yours?

You have to be a university graduate with at least a 2:1 degree (not necessarily in law) from a decent university to stand a chance of getting what is called a traineeship with a big City/international firm, then you need to go to law school (one year or two) then you will be trained for two years by your law firm before being let loose on the world as a newly qualified lawyer. So after A levels, you are looking at six to seven years further education and training!

What is your typical day like?

There is no such thing and that is what I love about this job. It is an adrenalin-fuelled roller-coaster ride! You very seldom know what you will be doing day to day you could be seeing airline management to discuss commercial issues, here or abroad, you could be in court,

The one consistent thread is that pretty much every day is tough, and you have to be able to work long hours, maintain your focus, and have good stamina!

What has been the worst moment in your career?

I have been fortunate to have a fantastically varied career, working on some of the most high-profile cases in the UK and abroad, which are often in the public spotlight. Two such examples are the worldwide deep vein thrombosis litigation on behalf of the airlines, and the Lockerbie trial, where I led the team for the second accused, the Libyan who was acquitted of the charges of playing any part in blowing up PanAm 103.

My worst moment was probably in the Lockerbie trial when the panel of four judges delivered their verdict of "guilty" on the first accused, and I had to stand there waiting for the verdict on my client for a full five minutes while they resuscitated a spectator who had fainted. After what seemed an eternity, the judges delivered the not guilty verdict on my client - the old heart rate stayed high for some time after that.

What is the financial reward like for an aviation lawyer?

As a partner your fortunes are driven by the economic climate, so with airlines facing a difficult time again, with fuel prices rocketing, they will not be ordering in new aircraft, or acquiring other airlines or opening new routes, and they will try and control their legal spend, so our fortunes as lawyers are often linked to the fortunes of the sector that we specialise in.

Source: Flight International