Admiralty law is a distinct body of law, not a branch, or subset, of general civil law. In fact, Admiralty has its own variations of the various subsets of law, including tort law, contract law, criminal law, labor law, etc. Admiralty law even has its own courts. Despite not being a large practice area, admiralty law can be a lucrative and fulfilling endeavor for a salty soul in a good port city, such as Chicago, New York or Fargo.
Although admiralty law has its own variations on substantive law, the primary challenge facing the young admiralty lawyer (beside keeping one's uniform tidy) is admiralty court procedure. Admiralty procedure, though seemingly complicated, arcane and unseemly, has its own beauty, like the sea itself. Set forth below is an intoductory guide for the young practitioner:
1. Addressing the Court: Admiralty court judges are never addressed as "your honor" or "judge," or even "sir." Rather, the proper title of a judge sitting in Admiralty is "Cap'n."
2. Entering the Courtroom: Admiralty lawyers must be careful not to board admiralty court before the bailiff (or "Boatswain") rings three strokes of the court bell.
3. Knowing the Players: Discipline is key in admiralty court. And knowing how to address others in admiralty court is crucial. Second chair co-counsel should be referred to as "first-mate." Opposing counsel must be referred to as "Scurvy Knave" or "Mr. Scurvy Knave".
4. Special Admiralty Terms of Art:
a) When raising an objection to a question posed by the Scurvy Knave, precede any statement with "Arghhhh."
b) If you wish to approach the bench, the correct phrase is, "Permission to come aboard, Cap'n."
c) You must always alert a witness before hostile cross-examination. The correct phrase is, "Prepare to be boarded."
d) Most addresses to the court should be preceded with "ahoy," unless another phrase is mandated, such as "Arghhhh."
e) A number of common words and phrases are replaced by special admiralty phrases. For example, "is" is usually converted to "be."
f) Admiralty lawyers are never sanctioned for unethical conduct. They may, however, be lashed to a yardarm and flogged.*
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
An Admiralty Proceeding might go something like this (the Boatswain has already wrung three bells):
Judge: Gentlemen; is there any further evidentiary issue to report before we raise the topsail and get underway**?
Counsel A: Ahoy! Permission to come aboard, Cap'n.
Judge: Permission granted............Call your next hand***.
Counsel A: Aye, Cap'n. I'd be a-calling Ben Gunn...
Counsel B: Arghhh, Cap'n. I be objectin'. That blasted Scurvy Knave never named no Ben Gunn as a hand. Aye, and the crew**** may be prejudiced by me lack of abilities to question the lad, lest I be havin' a moment or two for preparation, and such.
Counsel A: Shiver me timbers, Cap'n. There be no prejudice if I be calling Ben Gunn. A better crewman has never sailed these seas.....
Judge: Gentlemen, gentlemen. This ship cannot long last the tempests of litigation with such conflict. Now; Mr. Gunn is a fine lad, and his integrity is not in question here. But the crew cannot be expected to properly perform its duty if Counsel has not had the opportunity to prepare.
Counsel A: Ahoy, Cap'n. But might the crew be due for a day in port*****? And might the time the crew be spending in quarters****** give the Scurvy Knave his precious time for preparation?
Counsel B: Arghhh! I be objectin' to that too, Cap'n. Why, I've sailed the seven seas but never with a scurvier knave than this here bloke*******, and . . .
Judge: Counsel B, your objection is noted and shall be recorded in the log book********. Boatswain, dismiss the crew to quarters with an extra ration of rum. Counsel B, you now have your opportunity. I suggest you use it wisely.
Counsel B: Aye, Cap'n. But we'll be havin' a mutiny********* on this point, Cap'n; mark my words.
Make sure you know this procedure inside and out before shipping out into a Maritime case.
*If a yardarm is unavailable, courts sometime lash the offending attorney to a copier or file cabinet.
** "Proceed with questioning."
******* "I have practiced the law for many years and have litigated many cases against numrous attorneys, none of whom has shown as much disrespect to the processes and procedures of this court, and of opposing counsel, than opposing counsel in this matter. "