Here there be dragons… and fools

My most recent interview has seriously made me consider revising my resume.

On my resume is my background in Maritime law. In nearly every interview I’ve had, this has come up at some point in the conversation. I had previously considered this to be a positive; something that not many people know about and would set me apart as a bit unique. Plus, its a good conversation starter; an interviewer can use it as a jumping off reference to start the conversation going. And honestly it is quite interesting (in legal circles) when you actually get to talking about some of its stranger aspects. The problem as I see it now, is that everyone brings it up; Which cuts both ways depending on who decides to bring it up.

In my last interview, I ran across the enthusiastic idiot. They seemed very taken with the concept of Maritime law, and also seemed to have read something about it a very long time ago which they only dimly half remembered. The problem became one of saving face. The enthusiast had started this conversation in front of 3 attorneys he worked with, including his boss. Once he started in, he was committed. We had been talking a bit about the qualifications with maritime law, and then they decided to go balls-to-the-wall and show off their knowledge of the field.

Here is a rough transcript of the conversation:

The Enthusiast started – “You know the ‘King’ case?” Followed by an expectant pause, waiting for me to verify whatever half memory they had.

I replied, “King case? Is King the name of the ship? I don’t really recall a ‘King’ case.”

He followed it up, “Yes. It was the name of the ship. It was an important case.”

And now I made the mistake of starting the guessing game, “Are we talking about Salvage here? Because that might be litigated under the insurance company’s name…”

“It probably was salvage.” he said.

Oh crap. It was at this point I realized he had no idea. And worse yet, I just gave them another word to latch onto. My mind was spinning on how to get out of this, but while I was thinking I was talking. “Hm, salvage, well a bunch of the big salvage cases I remember happened around the Cape of Good Hope…”

Suddenly the enthusiast backed off. “It’s not a test, don’t worry about it.”

I started to say something else, and he repeated more emphatically “don’t worry. nevermind. It’s not a test.” And he changed the subject.

I was a bit confused, whereas before he was all gung-ho about some apparently important case that he couldn’t remember the name of the ship, the content of the case, or nearly anything else… and suddenly he was trying to shut it down. I realized in that moment that geography had saved me. They had no idea where the Cape of Good Hope was, and he was about 5 seconds away from looking very stupid. But, so long as he stepped away now, he could try to play it off that I just didn’t know what I was talking about. Had the interviewer been doing it on purpose, it would have been an excellent example of game theory.

This might have been the end, but it seemed like they couldn’t completely leave the topic alone. “What if there was a gambling ship on (some navigable riverway) and they built a pier? Would that make it maritime?”

The number of problems with that statement quite literally made me squint. The waterway and the ship made it maritime. The pier could fall under maritime jurisdiction depending on what you are talking about, but why would that matter. The only things usually contested on piers are damage to the pier, and injury of people on the pier. He hadn’t stated any sort of problem to determine jurisdiction but he seemed to be inferring from the conversation that somehow the pier inherited the status of a gambling establishment. Somehow. I started explaining that really Maritime law could do much of the same things as regular state law, but its real power lay in shifting the liability of the parties significantly if pulled into Federal Maritime jurisdiction.

This answer was met with the beaming face of the enthusiast as he waited expectantly for the answer I had just given him. My heart dropped. This part of the conversation was going to end up just like the last.


For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out what case he might have been referring to. Later, driving back from the interview, a thought occurred to me as I was mentally listing the names of cases and ships… HMS… His Majesty’s Ship. The interviewer had no idea what the name of the ship was nor the content of the case, but somehow was able to half remember that it was (probably) a British flagged naval vessel. And this became ‘King’ in their mind.

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