Double life: fighting talk

The Gateway speaks to City shipping disputes lawyer Thor Maalouf, who also battles it out as a corporal in the Territorial Army
Starting work

Apart from anything else, Thor is an accomplished baker. After a busy week at GW Global Command Centre, The Gateway is enjoying settling down to homemade scones and Earl Grey with Miss Maalouf and her brother in the Kensington flat where they both live.

The early days

After she's poured The Gateway another cup of tea, we talk about the years after Thor, an Oxford physics graduate, left university, which is when her interest in both the Territorial Army and in shipping law was sparked. I had a friend who was keen on joining the army which was what made me look into the TA, and sign up.â€Â And it was still early days for Thor's legal career at this point too: Â"I worked as an engineer for a bit after graduating because I wasn't sure what I wanted to do after university. But I knew that it wasn't what I wanted long term. Law was always a possibility, for as long as I can remember, but actually, I didn't really choose to do law as such - it was more about shipping. I was reading a careers guide book, and I saw an interview with a shipping lawyer. They were talking about how their job involved giving instructions to harbourmasters to arrest ships, how they got to ride in the harbourmaster's helicopter and say: Â"Stop that ship!â€Â I thought Â"That job sounds absolutely amazing. I want to do it.â€Â

Thor goes on to tell the story of how that moment of inspiration turned into a career: Â"I applied to all the law firms in the City that did shipping, because I was so excited about it.â€Â Thor did a month-long vacation scheme at one of these firms, with two weeks in Hong Kong, one of the world's busiest ports, as well as a stint in London, during which she got to see her chosen area of practice in action. Still very much enthralled, she went on to accept a training contract place with the same firm, where she still works now.

Her two years of training gave her a great grounding for a career in shipping law: Â"My first seat was general litigation which was really cool - my supervisor gave me lots of good research to do. And then I sat in shipping, which was fantastic. Then after that, because I loved it so much, I did shipping again in the firm's office in Athens.â€Â When Thor got back from Athens, having done three contentious seats, Law Society regulations dictated that she had to do some transactional work, but she managed to use her final six months of training to zone in further on what she knew she liked: Â"I did ship finance! I knew I wanted to qualify in shipping and I thought it would be useful, and it was. I loved the fact that it was to do with ships, but I hated transactional work, the way everything started with a precedent. I'm a litigator. I like the creativity of coming up with arguments.â€Â

Exciting times

The Gateway asks Thor to speak a little more about what it is about shipping litigation that she loves so much: Â"I think it's exciting because it's an adventure. Ships. The high seas. Trade. No other kind of project would find itself in a completely different part of the world every few days, encountering problems unique to that part of the world. Shipping matters are always changing, there's always something going on. Transporting anything by sea is such a massive logistical exercise - a tanker that goes to Nigeria, fills up with oil and sails to South America could encounter all kinds of crazy problems. Piracy. Weather. Getting arrested by creditors. Or congestion at the ports and arguments over whose ship gets to load.â€Â

We then turn to the logistics of Thor's military career: Â"I'm a corporal, the next rank up after private, which is called signaller in the Signals, where I am. We meet every Tuesday evening, and then one weekend a month, but it's not the end of the world if you can't make it, and obviously sometimes because of work, I can't. On Tuesdays, usually there'll be a parade, and then we'll have a few lessons in the classroom or on the kit. I'm in the Signals, so that's communications kit. And on our weekends, we'll do communications exercises, practising with the kit that it's our job to be able to deploy. And sometimes we do infantry training or fitness training, but generally there's lots of intellectual work too.â€Â

The Gateway is noticing some parallels between the life of a shipping litigator and a reservist - the need for brainpower, the strategic thinking, a sense of adventure, and a degree of fighting spirit - but to The Gateway's surprise, Thor disagrees: Â"I see them as completely different. I think my job as a lawyer is all about reasoning with fine details, whereas in the TA things are black and white, and a lot more rough and ready! Also, we have a really flat management structure in my firm, like most firms in the City, but the army, for obvious reasons, needs to have a very rigid multi-layered chain of command.â€Â

Does Thor enjoy the contrast between the two environments? Â"I do. I like the fact that the TA is different from your normal daily life. You get to know people really well - you're going to have a lot more brothers and sisters than before you joined because that's how you feel about the people that you meet! You'll be in extreme circumstances with people in close quarters, so you'll get to know every aspect of each other's characters and abilities really well, and much more quickly than colleagues in the office.â€Â

The Gateway asks Thor how the two environments interact: Â"My colleagues think that the TA's really hardcore, and I must be like GI Jane! And then in the TA, some people don't really understand why I would want to do a job that has such long hours and can be so demanding.â€Â

How will Thor manage this balance going forward? - an integral part of being in the TA is to provide support to the regular army, which could mean giving up legal practice for a few months. The Gateway asks Thor how she would feel about a stint in Afghanistan. Â"That would be great - it's what we're training for.â€Â But Thor sees shipping law as also, Â"absolutely part of my future - I feel happy that they're both parts of my life.â€Â

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