Garvey Schubert Barer

50 Years of Maritime Law

 

In 1975 the steamship Great Land inaugurated service between Tacoma, Washington and Anchorage, Alaska, and the new company, Totem Ocean Trailer Express (TOTE), hired Stan Barer and GSB as its attorneys.

You've probably heard of the law firm Garvey Schubert Barer. If you need an attorney, especially one familiar with the ins and outs of the maritime industry, the Northwest-based law firm would be a good choice. Throughout much of its 50-year history GSB attorneys have advised and represented the maritime companies in this region.

With six offices and over 100 attorneys offering a wide variety of legal services, Garvey Schubert Barer, founded in 1966 by Bill Houger, Mike Garvey and Ken Schubert, also represents clients in other industries including transportation and logistics, hospitality, communications, manufacturing, sports and entertainment and real estate among others. Through it all, the firm has never lost the sense of adventure shared by the founders.

"There was an excitement, and I can still remember the promise of the future we imagined," Mike Garvey says. "The idea of building our own lives and creating a firm that matched our desire and ambitions and being in charge of our lives in that way."

The three founders of the firm had met in law school, and had planned to start the firm even before they had finished.

"We were very ignorant of the issues we would face but were totally confident we could overcome any obstacles. Most times we did," he says, "Sometimes we didn't."

The three original partners, Houger, Garvey and Schubert, were all in the same University of Washington Law School class, and all were good students. "We were all Law Review, and we conspired about starting our firm while in school, but we decided to wait a couple years," Garvey says. "We thought we might benefit from a little experience."

Two of the team clerked for judges for a year and went to work for large firms in Seattle. Garvey went straight to work for Seattle firm Preston, Thorgrimson (now K&L Gates) for two years.

"So we started the firm with some experience," Garvey says. "In hindsight it wasn't a lot of experience."

The firm started with a range of legal services from criminal defense to domestic relations to bankruptcy to real estate.

"It was hard to get people to come to us," Garvey remembers. "We were young and not experienced, but we would do anything we could to make a living."

Fishing companies came first as regular clients, Garvey says. One of the partners had an interest in trial law, another in estate planning, and Garvey "filled in everything else," but he had a strong interest in business real estate.

In 1974, Stan Barer came to the firm from Washington DC. "He had worked as maritime counsel to the Commerce Committee," Garvey says, "and he brought a knowledge of US maritime affairs we didn't have."

DC Experience

Although late to the firm, Stan Barer brought with him an extensive and valuable resume. He had been working in the US Senate for many years as Administrative Assistant to US Senator Warren Magnuson and in a variety of positions with the US Senate Committee on Commerce.

"Maggie (Senator Magnuson) started an internship program with the UW law school and in fact I was the first one in the program," he remembers. "I went back in 1963 and spent a year and a half. It was very rewarding, but I thought I'd better try being a lawyer at some point, so I found a job with the US attorney."

Barer was in his third year working in the US Attorney's office when the Senator reached out to him. "Senator Magnuson called me because the man who had been maritime counsel for a decade had retired." Magnuson offered Barer the job. "I told him, 'I'm from Walla Walla- I don't have a strong maritime background.' He said, 'That doesn't matter – I'm from Minnesota.'"

Barer was successful, but restless. In 1974 he made a career change.

"I had been in Washington DC for a decade," he says. "I suppose I had a touch of 'Potomac fever'. Even though it was exciting working in the Senate, I thought if I didn't leave and start my own life I'd work there forever."

Barer had family in Seattle, so he found a job at a good firm in the area and started his new career.

"I had done maritime work in the Senate," he says, "including serving as maritime Counsel in the Senate for many years working for Magnuson." He also served for many years as Counsel at the Commerce Committee, with jurisdiction over all transportation issues, including maritime, aviation and trucking.

One of Barer's first clients, Lykes Bros. Steamship Company, was the last steamship company out of China when the revolution occurred in 1949.

"I was going to go to China on other business, and Lykes asked me to see about getting back into China service," he says.

"I met with the Chinese shipping company (COSCO) and they said, 'we would like to have Lykes back, and we'd also like to serve US ports. If you can figure it out, get back to us.'"

Barer figured it out in early 1979. "There was a bill that had been in the Senate for at least five years without getting passed," he says. The bill didn't specifically mention China. "I read it and was convinced one clause in the bill would solve the Lykes problems."

During the Korean War, the government froze all of China's assets in the US, and China froze all US assets in China. As a result, US companies were owed money by the Chinese government.

"Everyone figured those outstanding claims prohibited commerce with China," he says, "but the new clause stipulated that a state-owned vessel engaged solely in commercial service cannot be arrested for debts of the sovereign unless you can show your money went into that ship," he says.

Barer said nothing until the legislation passed in the last days of the Ford administration. "When Jimmy Carter came in, I wrote a legal opinion to the US Attorney General, who agreed with me."

Barer gave that opinion, on behalf of Lykes, to the Chinese, along with a letter from the Attorney General that said his opinion was correct.

"It was very interesting," Barer remembers. "The Attorney General and the President said, "you're right, but don't tell Treasury or State. But you can tell the Chinese."

Barer and the president of Lykes flew to Beijing and got an agreement to start service, even before the normalization of relations that followed the visit of Chinese Premier Deng Xiaoping to Seattle in 1979.

"There was a lot of fanfare when the first Chinese ship, the Liu Lin Hai, sailed into Seattle in April, but the Letitia Lykes had called at Shanghai a month before that."

The firm's expertise came over time, Mike Garvey says. "When we first started we knew people had more experience that we did, so we developed an ethic of outworking everybody we came up against. We covered our lack of experience with working very hard."

Garvey says a strong ethical content to the practice meant they put the clients' interests above those of the firm. "We had a strong belief in honesty and truthfulness, and knew that doing the right thing would bring the best result over time."

Fishing Clients

Over time, GSB developed a strong maritime presence as the lawyers for several maritime and fishing industry clients. "One of our partners, John Bundy, became the chief operating officer of a fishing company in Alaska," Mike Garvey says. "He was our first summer associate."

As well as being a top-notch law firm, Garvey says GSB also served as a training ground for maritime and fishing industry leaders.

"We have quite a group of alumni now, and they're wonderful people," he says. "I can't tell you the pleasure I get thinking about the number of people who have worked with us."

Garvey says GSB lawyers all stand out because of their character, intelligence and dedication to law and ethics. "They really make me proud."

One of these is Steve Johnson, who started with GSB in 1975 after having clerked for the summer in 1974. "Stan Barer had just started with the firm, coming out of DC and the Commerce Committee and Senator Warren Magnuson's staff," Johnson recalls. "I had taken a summer job with the firm, and was offered a permanent job on graduation from Harvard Law School."

"I was open to a lot of things," Johnson says. "The reality is we were a tiny little firm, and I was the only associate in the firm in 1976, so I did everything." Johnson became a shareholder in 1981.

Johnson's commercial fisheries work started in 1979. "The firm had represented the company now known as Maruha Nichiro Corporation of Japan in giving advice on the Magnuson-Stephens act," Johnson says. Garvey Schubert Barer was chosen to represent a trade association of Japanese companies that had been interviewing law firms.

"Japanese companies woke up to the fact that the largest fishery in the world, and their largest fishery, was now subject to US legal processes they didn't understand."

Johnson represented two Japanese trawl industry trade associations from 1979 to 1990, and formed connections with the regulators and institutions of the North Pacific fisheries. "As US capacity to harvest increased, we ended up representing the Japanese firms engaged in joint venture operations with US firms," Johnson says.

"Ultimately I represented them with investments in vessel operations they made with US fishermen and graduated to representing US companies engaged in Bering Sea trawl and longline fisheries.

Among the companies we put together were Supreme Alaska Seafoods, Golden Alaska Seafoods, Alaska Ocean Seafoods, Alaska Frontier Company and Glacier Fish Company. We went from there to representing major shore-based processors, such as Icicle and Trident Seafoods.

"We have done a lot of fisheries work," Johnson says. "Fisheries work has always been a major part of our maritime business.

Johnson says the Pacific Northwest is fortunate to have such a robust fishing industry. He participates nationally, and is an active member of maritime organizations nationwide.

"Frankly speaking the rest of the country doesn't add up to the Bering Sea and West Coast fishery," he says. "The companies in other US fisheries are not as economically strong – they've been struggling for years."

Johnson says the firm's diversity of locations and expertise are a big part of their success. "You have access to all these skills that come together to make a successful representation," he says.

"We've represented what I believe to be the only Chinese company to make a significant investment in a Bering Sea fishing company," Johnson says. "Our office in Beijing has been very beneficial with our Chinese clients. It's helpful when you have a native Chinese speaker – especially in answering questions from folks in the headquarters who might not speak English very well."

Johnson says the firm is successful in large part because of the efforts of firm founder Ken Schubert.

"Stan and Mike are obviously a huge part of the success of the firm," Johnson says, "but when they left GSB to go into business, Ken Schubert carried the flag." Johnson says John Bundy was another key to success. Bundy's work with fishing companies eventually led him to leave GSB to work for one of the firm's largest fishing clients, Glacier Fish Company.

"John Bundy basically developed our Glacier Fish Company representation when he was with us," Johnson says. "I've enjoyed working with him, and he's a hell of a lawyer. He helped make Glacier Fish what it is today."

Maritime Expertise

Maritime attorney Barbara Holland started with the firm in 1981, and was voted in as an owner five years later. When she joined, TOTE and COSCO were already key clients, and Stan Barer and others helped her make contacts in the maritime industry. She was involved with Saltchuk's acquisition of Foss Maritime in 1987 and has worked closely with the tug and barge industry ever since, including trade association AWO. The firm's representation of both domestic and foreign flag ocean shipping also grew rapidly with appointments as correspondent for several of the international P&I Clubs that insure ocean carriers.

In addition to ocean shipping, tug and barge, and fishing vessel operators, Holland's and the firm's maritime practice encompasses shipyards, cruise ship and ferry operators, terminal operators, freight forwarders, marine insurers, naval architects and other businesses that serve the industry. The firm serves as general outside counsel for a number of maritime clients.

"On a given day I may respond to a marine casualty, give advice on pollution regulations, prepare a shipyard contract or charter party, give risk management advice, interact with Coast Guard personnel on a regulatory matter, or handle a vessel arrest case or other maritime litigation in federal court," she says.

Holland says that as a maritime lawyer she is constantly presented with interesting questions. "The best part is being involved with the innovative businesses and people who make up the marine industry and being part of the extraordinary developments that have occurred over the years." One such example? "The development and construction of TOTE's LNG-powered ships."

Growing up in Michigan, Holland was always around water and spent a lot of time sailing. "As a kid I was fascinated with the ships in the locks up at Sault Ste. Marie," she says. After college, Holland went to work as a paralegal for a maritime law firm outside of Newport, Rhode Island, before entering Harvard Law School. She spent her free time ocean sailing and racing on the East Coast before setting her sights on Seattle and the Pacific Rim. She went to law school intending to practice maritime law. "In fact Harvard didn't have a maritime law program, but I knew I was interested in maritime law and the industry, so I began to focus on it, learning what I needed to."

Her third year at Harvard, her advisor was Stephen Breyer, who now sits on the US Supreme Court. Justice Breyer's experience in transportation helped Holland with her maritime law studies. "He had been involved in the deregulation of the airline industry in the 1970s," she says. "His input was invaluable."

In 1979, GSB came to Harvard to recruit for their Seattle office, and Holland was interviewed on campus, then flown to Seattle for an on-site interview. "The Northwest seemed like a great place to live and an interesting place to practice maritime law, with the focus on the Pacific Rim." She accepted a summer job, then returned after graduation in 1981.

GSB was a young, vibrant firm, she says, with a Pacific Rim focus and an established office in Washington DC focused on transportation. "We were the first Northwest firm to open a DC office," she says. "If you're going to be working with highly regulated industries like the maritime industry, you need access to the regulators and the ability to advocate for your clients on Capitol Hill."

"I've been fortunate to have mentors and colleagues with tremendous foresight," she says. "Stan Barer was my first mentor, and I was able to participate in projects and learn how to become a lawyer while observing exciting developments in an industry in which I was interested and planning to build my career."

Holland says the firm's strength is its focus on the industry and its needs. "Our value comes from understanding our client's business – anticipating the issues clients will face and helping them navigate through them."

She notes that representing maritime clients includes most other aspects of the legal profession, including labor and employment, marine finance, international law, intellectual property, criminal law, immigration, bankruptcy and tax, to name a few. "The beauty of our practice at GSB is that I have colleagues who are experts in all of these areas." "They may all come up when working with a client in a marine business," she says.

Knowing the marine business is important. Holland says GSB has a deep bench, with other professionals that work in different practice specialties but also know the maritime industry. "We want to be trusted advisors," she says. "We can offer our clients a deep knowledge of their business and an understanding of their goals, and how the law affects those goals."

In addition to chairing the firm's maritime practice, Holland is on the Board of the Maritime Law Association of the United States and is in her fifth year as one of its officers, currently serving as Secretary. She is only the second woman to serve in this capacity.

"I'd like to say I had it all figured out, with a plan in place to practice maritime law with a top firm in the Pacific Northwest,' she says. "The truth is, I have been terrifically lucky."

Deep Maritime Connections

In 1974 Sun Shipbuilding Company started steamship service to Alaska, and the new company, Totem Ocean Trailer Express (TOTE), hired Stan Barer and GSB as its attorneys. Seven years later, a group of investors led by Barer and Mike Garvey purchased the shipping line. Barer and Garvey subsequently left the law firm to manage the new company, which became Saltchuk Resources.

"By 1986 I had quit practicing law," Garvey says. "I got into the maritime industry, and it started taking all of my time."

Saltchuk now owns companies in all sectors of the transportation industry, including air cargo, trucking and logistics, domestic and international shipping, tug and barge services and petroleum distribution. GSB and its attorneys continue to work closely with the Saltchuk family of companies.

Barer was chairman, and subsequently co-chair with Mike Garvey, of Saltchuk for 15 years, before retiring from the company. He remains Of Counsel to the law firm that still bears his name.

"Have I had fun? "Stan Barer asks. "Yes. It's been nice to be part of the growth of the state's trade," he says. "The ports of Seattle and Tacoma are very important," he says. "We are the most trade dependent state in the nation, and two-thirds of all jobs in Washington are trade related."

"We started as the closest port to the Far East, and particularly to China," he says. "Technology took that away a little, and the geographical advantage changed, but the dependence on trade and the attitude and structure of the state's economy have carried us through anyway."

"We're no longer the gateway, per se, but the state's relationship with China is still strong. Every Chinese president stops in Seattle when he visits the US – they consider Seattle and Washington a great friend, and every Governor of the State has focused on that."

Next Generation

Brent Jones joined Garvey Schubert Barer in 1999 after having clerked for the firm in 1998. Jones graduated from the University of Washington with a law degree and a good understanding of the industries that molded the Pacific Northwest.

A fifth-generation Washingtonian, Jones has an appreciation for the way the West Coast operates. After seven years with the firm, he became an owner. As the chair of the firm's Mergers and Acquisitions group, Jones specializes in corporate transactions, and has represented natural resources companies, nationwide transportation and logistics companies and tug and barge companies.

"Although we started in Seattle, we now have strategic offices in other locations along the Pacific Rim," Jones says. "Most of our international work is done for clients in Canada, Japan and China."

Along with Pacific Northwest offices in Anchorage, Seattle and Portland, the firm has strategically located offices in Washington DC, New York and Beijing, China.

"Stan Barer had strong ties to DC, and so did Brock Adams, who moved from law into politics." Adams, who was a principal of GSB, represented Washington State in Congress for 18 years, and served as US Secretary of Transportation under President Carter.

The New York office was founded by GSB attorney Keven Davis, who had a sports and entertainment practice, representing sports agents and athletes, including Serena and Venus Williams, as well as musicians and entertainers.

"Having a New York office was the best way to serve those clients," Jones says. "The New York office continues to have a strong sports and entertainment practice, but also a securities litigation and finance practice, as well as a broader general business practice."

The Beijing, China office is a facilitator of business between China and the US. "We don't practice Chinese law, but it's helpful to have someone on the ground who speaks the language to facilitate cross-border transactions," he says.

The GSB office in China is essentially an outpost of a US law firm. "We do practice US law there, and we can advise and facilitate with Chinese attorneys when needed."

The Beijing office sees a fair amount of immigration work, but much of the work with the Chinese office involves investments in the US. "It's all inbound money," he says. "There's an incredible amount of Chinese money coming into Seattle and elsewhere."

Over the years Jones has represented clients such as Saltchuk in their acquisition of companies including NANA Oilfield Services, Carlile Transportation, Tropical Shipping and Interstate Distributor Co.

One of his first deals was working on behalf of Saltchuk on the acquisition of Delta Western Petroleum.

Another big project early in Jones' career was the acquisition of the assets of American Seafoods from a Norwegian firm. Working on behalf of Centre Partners Management LLC and US fishing industry executives Bernt Bodal and Jeffrey Davis, Jones worked with GSB veterans Bruce King and Steve Johnson to manage the acquisition. "I was less than a year out of law school." Jones says. The deal was closed in January of 2000.

"That was a great start to my career at the firm," Jones says. "It was a lot of fun, and I was hooked after that."

Erin Eliasen, new to Garvey Schubert Barer, represents and advises companies in all types of negotiated transactions, including credit finance and project finance. She also advises clients on maritime transactions, including the structuring of vessel ownership arrangements, vessel documentation and vessel financing.

Eliasen grew up in Seattle, but went to college in Philadelphia and then to New York's Fordham University to study law, graduating in 2003.

She practiced law in New York for three years, before moving back to Seattle to practice law. "Seattle is a kinder, gentler place," she says.

After 9 years with another West Coast firm, Eliasen joined Garvey Schubert Barer as an owner in 2015.

After three years in New York as a bankruptcy attorney, Eliasen is glad to focus on finance and commercially negotiated agreements. "I try not to do litigation," she says. Although negotiations can be tough sometimes, "at least the parties all have the same goal," she says. "They all want to get to the same place."

As a Seattle native, Eliasen was always interested in the fishing industry. "It's a very important industry for the region," she says.

She appreciates the fishing and maritime industry work because it offers straightforward problems and solutions. Eliasen has been involved in fishing transactions throughout her time practicing law on the West Coast. "Those are the deals I liked the most, so GSB is a good fit." Much of her fishing industry practice involves financing new vessel construction.

"A number of new vessels are being built," she says, "and vessel modification financing makes up a lot of my work, as well as consolidations and transfers of ownership interests."

She notes that GSB is one of the few full service firms that really understand the fishing and maritime industries. "Smaller firms might work with one or two issues within the industry," she says. "We run the full gamut, from litigation to corporate relationships to insurance. We do the full spectrum."

Next Steps

Like the legal industry, Eliasen says there are generational shifts among closely held fishing companies. "The younger generation might not want to fish," she says. "They might sell instead. I wouldn't be surprised to see some of them sell."

Steve Johnson agrees. "We're going to be doing more and more work with outside investment in the fishing industry," Johnson says, including consolidation through mergers and acquisitions. "The economics are going to drive further interest from outside investors, which will enable us to recapitalize the fleet and keep things healthy and prosperous."

"Because of our years of Japanese representation, we are one of the predominant firms in assisting with foreign investment in the fishing industry. We really know the rules and our expertise in assisting in structuring complex fishing investments helps with private equity investors."

Johnson says, "My game plan is to transition my clients and expertise as much as possible to the next generation, and we're already well along in that process."

"In the future, technology and regulation will continue to drive a lot of change in the maritime industry," Barbara Holland says. "Our focus is on staying nimble enough to adapt to the changing business landscape so we can continue to meet our clients' needs."

Garvey, Schubert and Barer, left to right, at a University of Washington alumni banquet. Photo courtesy of Garvey Schubert Barer.

Going forward, Brent Jones sees the firm getting deeper into industries and specialties. "Over time things tend to get more specialized," he says. "We've got industry segments like fishing and maritime, and we have depth and experience in those fields," he says. "The different disciplines build on each other."

"We have a superstar lineup in the next generation," Steve Johnson says. Along with Jones, and Eliasen, he praises owner Andy Aley, whose practice involves mergers and acquisitions, and Tyler Arnold, who focuses on overall maritime law issues.

"They're at the center of a lot of transactions, including fisheries and the broader maritime sphere," Johnson says.

"I view us as a premier regional firm," Brent Jones says, "with national and international capabilities and

ties."

 
 

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