LEADING SINGAPORE LAWYER CORINA SONG ON WHAT HER INDONESIAN COUNTERPARTS SHOULD KNOW

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As our virtual interview gets underway, I notice that Corina Song’s office overlooks Marina Bay. It’s a fitting view for a lawyer who’s made her name as a leader in maritime and shipping law—and recognised as such by the Singapore Academy of Law, which named her a Senior Accredited Specialist in Maritime and Shipping Law last year.

The accreditation continues her success in the field, which she entered right after she was called to the Bar. “This was the early 1990s, when specialisation wasn’t as big a thing as it is today,” she recalls. “But during university and my pupillage, I thought it was important to plot the direction I wanted to go in.” Explaining her eventual decision to start her career in a medium-sized shipping firm, she continues, “Shipping seemed like a logical choice, given its importance to Singapore’s economy.”

It’s a similar picture in Singapore’s southernmost neighbour, she observes. “The maritime sector in Indonesia will continue to thrive for years to come, simply because of its abundance of natural resources such as oil and gas, coal, and crude palm oil just to name a few, which are exported.” And given President Joko Widodo’s vision to make the country a global maritime hub, she expects to see more shipping and trade law developments in the coming years.

BUILDING YOUR NETWORK
Corina believes that maintaining a wide network of contacts is important for her practice. She has done this through her work with the International Bar Association, where she serves as its first-ever Asian co-chair of the Maritime & Transport Law Committee. Commenting on these networks, she says, “In the heat of the moment, you need to know who to call to help your client. If you don’t, you might lose the ship altogether.”

Those in her networks do more than help in times of need: they also readily share advice and knowledge on issues of maritime law. When the Singapore Academy of Law recently published its booklet “Singapore: An Overview of Shipping Law”, which was a project of the Shipping Sub-Committee which she chairs, she took the opportunity to share this publication amongst her international contacts. She notes that “whilst English law has traditionally been the preferred choice of law for most shipping and trade contracts, she increasingly encounters shipping and trade agreements, particularly where at least one of the contracting parties is based in Asia, where the parties have selected Singapore law.” She does not find this surprising, she observes that “whilst Singapore has inherited the English common law tradition, Singapore law has not stood still. Its courts have built on the foundations of English maritime law and have gone on to develop common law legal principles shaped to suit the needs of a modern free-trade port”.

She cites how Singapore court decisions have been referred to and/or followed on numerous occasions by other courts in the Commonwealth, on an array of legal issues that are of topical interest to the industry, such as principles relating to bills of lading, cargo misdelivery claims and the exercise of admiralty jurisdiction.

When I point out that developing such networks might intimidate younger lawyers, she responds, “It’s not something you should be afraid of and it’s definitely not something that can happen overnight. But if you keep at it, you’ll get there. There’s a sense of reciprocity in the community that makes it easy for you to build a network.”

And that network will soon develop into a friendship, with regular WA chats that don’t always revolve around work. During this summer’s Euro championships, she recalls her phone buzzing constantly with messages of excitement from her various contacts. “It was a live, blow-by-blow commentary from maritime lawyers all around the world. I did not even have to read the sports pages!”

As we end our chat, she reflects on her time at Allen & Gledhill, noting that there have been many high points, including last year’s accreditation. Next year marks Corina’s 25th at the firm, where she made partner in 2000. Spending a quarter of a century at a single firm might boggle some minds, but she shares that longevity has had its merits. “The gestation period for the larger and more complex cases are typically longer. I’ll be honest, I don’t think many young lawyers these days can say that they’ve been able to see a large and complex case from beginning to end because turnover rates are so high!”

Corina will be making the introductory remarks at (Mis)Conceptions About Singapore Shipping and International Trade Law, a free webinar that will highlight the uniqueness of Singapore’s shipping law. The webinar will be held on 26 August 2021 from 2pm to 4pm (Indonesian time). It will be conducted in both English and Bahasa Indonesia. Register here.