BOOK REVIEW | Crisis Lawyering – Effective Legal Advocacy in Emergency Situations

When a crisis hits, Pandora’s box opens. Is this irreversible? If this is the case, to what extent? Which factors can be controlled by crisis lawyers and their teams, and which factors tend to be more challenging? Is the usual perfectionism and risk version of jurists an asset or an obstacle in high-tempo and high-pressure situations? Does it suffice to rely upon one’s safety zone in terms of knowledge and professional skills to effectively and creatively handle a large-scale emergency?

All in all, is crisis lawyering different from traditional lawyering? In the affirmative, what are the strategies that can be used by consultants and lawyers and their team to navigate in unchartered waters?

These are some of the points raised and explored in the new book Crisis Lawyering – Effective Legal Advocacy in Emergency Situations.

When I was reading the book, I was in a prolonged strict lockdown due to the global pandemic, something that I would never imagine that I would experience even though I was familiar with quarantines/lockdowns and force majeure clauses in charterparties from my exposure to shipping. Despite having survived a war as a child and having experienced at some stage of my life, like other fellow citizens, global emergencies such as state-imposed capital control measures and a prolonged regional economic crisis, by the time this book review was almost over, I was surprised as a maritime professional to hear in the news about another incredible event: the disruption caused by the grounding and refloating of a mega containership in the Suez Canal, a canal used smoothly by approximately 19,000 vessels per year.

This incident exacerbated my thoughts as to whether emergencies should be the new norm. If this were the case, how would legal advocacy be affected? And what would be the added value in practice of the proactive and post-event approaches like the ones explored in this book?

It was in this context that I read Crisis Lawyering. The book is much more than a 424-page volume of essays under the authorship of experienced contributors who are practitioners and academics (Caroline Bettinger-López, Baher Azmy, Christy E. Lopez, David E. McCraw, Lee Wang, Sarah Rogerson, John Travis Marshall, Eleanor Stein, Richard Pinner, Carmen Huertas-Noble, Missy Risser-Loving, Christopher Adams, David S. Turetsky, Brian Wilson, Nora Johnson, Eric K. Stern, Brad Kieserman, Torkel Schlegel, Per-Åke Mårtensson, Ella Carlberg, Muneer I. Ahmad, Michael J. Wishnie, Scott Westfahl, Jay Sullivan).

Published in 2021 and made possible in part from a grant from the University of Albany and Albany Law School Innovation Fund, the book can be described as a collection of experiences – theory and practice – from professionals with experience, to name but a few, with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (USA), New York Times, Guantánamo, Maritime Operational Threat Response Plan (USA), the Maritime Event Response Protocol (MERP) (Canada), the US Department of Justice, and the Swedish Legal Advice in Crisis projects.

Confronted with the challenge of addressing real emergency situations in their capacity as lawyers, consultants, advisors, etc. acute emergencies ashore or at sea described in the book range from contagious diseases, corporate financial crises and natural disasters to travel bans affecting thousands of individuals, homeless persons, and maritime threats. The connection between these emergencies was the imperative for the lawyers and their teams to act as problem solvers under extreme pressure and to interphase effectively with a wider circle of interested parties than usual.

Above all, as noted by the editors, crisis lawyers had to respond “more effectively, efficiently, ethically and creatively” in a compressed time frame and under conditions of uncertainty.

The subject matter is addressed in three parts. The first part (“Beyond the Familiar and the Imperative of Creativity”) describes the experiences of lawyers that were called upon to discover new areas and devise creative channels for addressing the crisis they were thrust into. The next part is titled “Crisis and Systemic Contexts” and seeks to capture the similarities that characterise crisis as well as their differing nature in the interest of a lessons-learned approach.

Part III (“Beyond Borders and Silos”) brings an international focus in the discussion with international crisis requiring cooperation and best practices. The last part is about educating crisis lawyers and skill-building.

Both the introductory and the concluding remarks written by the editors provide a useful and meaningful framework that can assist any professional seeking to articulate a checklist with peace of mind in order to better prepare for the legal battle when the crisis hits. The discussions held by the authors, who are highly experienced professionals and academics with practical exposure, are meaningful and easy to follow.

The book is characterised by openness and a genuine intention to share information and experiences. An illustration would be the chapter written by Brian Wilson and Nora Johnson on overcoming multiagency crisis coordination challenges in the context of maritime, including security threats. Maritime threats are coordinated in the US by the Maritime Operational Threat Response (MOTR) Plan. As noted by Wilson and Johnson, “crisis lawyering, like whole-of-government collaboration, is best described through example”.  Their examples are followed by a well-thought-out list with best practice tips. All contributors distill lessons from real events. A thorough, current and relevant bibliography is also provided at the end of each chapter.

Crisis lawyering is an emerging field of law that benefits from crisis management and communication but has a potential for further development as an independent field of study. The book significantly contributes to this. When a crisis hits, Pandora’s box opens unless organisations are well prepared in advance. The book succeeds in identifying and exploring how emergency situations may unfold in varied contexts. It discusses the skills needed for addressing emergencies in the capacity of a legal professional, as well as the stages ideally involved in order to leverage the experience: as pointed out by the editors, these are “preparing, sense-making, decision-making, meaning-making and messaging, ending and accounting, and learning”.

All in all, being a collection of experiences on beyond the familiar, and on preventing chaos from the stance of legal advocacy, Crisis Lawyering provides an excellent current and sound discussion of an unsettled area. A highly recommended reading for any legal strategist and their team.

Editors: Ray Brescia and Eric K. Stern

Available from New York University Press, USA


Iliana Christodoulou Varotsi

Dr Iliana Christodoulou-Varotsi is a legal consultant and a member of the Athens Bar Association since 1995, specialising in maritime and EU law and policies. She is a lead trainer in regulatory compliance in shipping (maritime safety, marine environment protection, maritime labour standards, carriage of goods by sea and marine insurance) collaborating with ALBA College and international training providers DNV and Lloyd’s Maritime Academy. As a legal consultant she is a highly experienced law drafter, working with Brussels-based consultancy firms for EU projects in the area of her specialisation. Author of four internationally-published books and numerous academic articles in Europe and in the USA (Journal of Maritime Law and Commerce, Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law, Transportation Law Journal, and others), Dr Christodoulou-Varotsi is also a member of WISTA Hellas and the Hellenic and French Maritime Law Association as well as an associate member of SNAME.