English solicitor and Scottish national Marie Kelly is a Partner at Norton Rose Fulbright in Athens, where she heads the firm’s Greek Dispute Resolution Practice. She specializes in shipping litigation and shipping contracts including ship-building contracts, and also has a great deal of experience in arbitration and in commercial litigation in the high court.
Kelly got her law degree from the University of Glasgow in 1982 and subsequently studied at the College of Europe in Bruges and the University of Edinburgh. She has been with Norton Rose Fulbright since 1998, when she moved with her husband to Athens.
Run us through your background, and how you got to Greece.
M.K.: I first qualified as a Scottish solicitor, then as an English solicitor, and then as a barrister in England. Before I was called to the bar my specialization was European competition law which I practiced at Ashurst Morris Crisp for a number of years. However, I missed appearing in court which I had done quite a lot of in Scotland so decided to move to the bar.
Was it always your goal to work abroad?
M.K.: No. I would not say it was ever a goal to work abroad, but on the other hand I like working abroad and have worked in Brussels and Frankfurt. My husband, who is Greek, suggested that we go to Greece for one year so that he could work on a project there. (He is a photographer). I agreed, provided I found a job for the year and got one year’s sabbatical from my chambers. That was 18 years ago.
Can you describe your practice, and how you built it up in Greece over the years? And do you appear exclusively in English courts, or do you appear in Greek courts and Arbitrations as well?
M.K.: My practice is quite diverse for a English qualified lawyer based in Greece in that I do a lot more than shipping. Since I arrived, although the bulk of my practice has been shipping work I have always had a reasonable amount of non-shipping work including international arbitrations often arising out of share sale and purchase agreements with Greek companies; non-shipping disputes in the High court including on licensing and distribution agreements and various other disputes under, e.g., management agreements or inheritance disputes. I would say that my practice has changed somewhat over the years in that I now deal with a large number of shipbuilding contract disputes – that probably makes up about 30 to 40% of the practice nowadays. When I first arrived in Greece we rarely dealt with shipbuilding contract disputes but it is an area that I am interested in and I have built it up over the years.
My team only deals with English law disputes. We work with Greek lawyers external or within the firm in relation to cases in the Greek courts. I have however appeared as a witness in court in Greece. That was an experience in itself, as the procedure is much more informal than in England and I was amused to see the lawyers getting into arguments with the judge.
Do you find local/domestic clients enthusiastic about working with a foreign lawyer, or do Greek clients prefer working with Greek lawyers?
M.K.: I think Greek clients want the best lawyer to deal with their cases and they do not mind whether the lawyer is Greek or foreign. They are also very used to working with foreign lawyers in the shipping sector. It also helps that I speak Greek.
There are obviously many differences between the English and the Greek judicial systems. What idiosyncrasies or differences stand out the most?
M.K.: The English law rules on disclosure are very different to the Greek rules where you only disclose what you want to rely on. Greek shipping companies are very sophisticated so they are well used to the English law concept of disclosure now but it still seems strange coming from a Greek law perspective that you have to disclose documents that are detrimental to your case.
What particular value do you think a senior expatriate lawyer in your role adds – both to a firm and to its clients?
M.K.: I think first-hand experience of working in the UK as a barrister and a solicitor is valuable to the firm and the clients. I think it gives a good understanding of the mindset of judges and tribunals and you can explain how they are likely to view evidence. In a way it is as though I have a foot in both camps. I have lived long enough in Greece to understand that the legal system is sometimes viewed with suspicion, but with my background I hope I can allay some of those fears.
Outside of Greece, which CEE country do you enjoy visiting the most?
M.K.: It’s difficult to say. I would have to mention two great and very different cities in the CEE: Istanbul for the fabulous food, the atmosphere and the Grand Bazaar – the most beautiful shopping venue I have ever been to – and Budapest for the sheer beauty and grandeur of the city, combined with the punk mentality of the “ruin bars.”
What’s your favorite place in Athens?
M.K.: Plaka, under the Acropolis is touristy but it is nevertheless beautiful and even better in the wintertime when it is quieter.
This Article was originally published in Issue 2.5. of the CEE Legal Matters Magazine. If you would like to receive a hard copy of the magazine, you can subscribe here.
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