The open waters that surround the comforting stability of the continents are considered by many to be powerful, plentiful, and unpredictable. Seas and oceans have their own unique set of commerce, issues, and visitors—from oil drillers and fishermen to recreational boaters and pirates—and thus are governed by highly specialized maritime law. Houston attorney Arthur Schechter knows this code well, having represented the seafaring for 50 years. On April 27, 2014, Schechter—who is a partner in Schechter, McElwee, Shaffer & Harris—celebrated this career milestone, which makes him one of the longest practicing maritime attorneys in U.S. history, according to a statement by his firm.
Also referred to as admiralty law, maritime law is complex, not widely taught in American law schools, and known by few U.S. attorneys. It covers matters related to shipping, navigation, insurance, canals, recreation, and more. Maritime law also provides that sea vessels are under the legal jurisdiction of the country whose flag they are flying based on a substantial relationship.
Although Schechter did not set out to practice in this area while a student at the University of Texas School of Law, maritime law soon found him. He worked with maritime clients, learning the intricate legal system surrounding various labor and employment benefits—such as workers compensation—and how these differed for longshoremen versus deep-water seamen, such as off shore workers who were injured in foreign waters while working for American companies.
Over the past five decades, Schechter said that the practice of maritime law has, in certain ways, changed considerably, including a diminished sense of collegiality. “There have also been some substantive legal changes,” he said.
Still, Schechter has continued to enjoy helping people, which he said is the purpose of the law. Among his past clients are the National Maritime Union, individual foreign seaman, the Indian Seaman’s Union, and the Pakistani Seaman’s Union. “The practice of maritime law,” said Schechter, “has been extraordinary as it has permitted me to handle cases arising all over the world and to work with many different social classes of plaintiffs who were also, in many instances, speakers of languages foreign to us and who suffered injury and damage in environments foreign to us. The cases and the clients were always fascinating and frequently humorous because of other cultural differences. I can honestly say that I loved the practice and felt that, no matter what kind of story was heard on a given day, human nature would always provide some surprise just as soon as I became convinced that I had ‘heard it all.’”