Career Spotlight: Alumnus Michael T. Moore Makes a Splash in Maritime Law
What started as food service job turned into a lifelong legal career for one UF Law graduate. Michael T. Moore, a double Gator (JD 74), spent his summers before law school waiting tables in North Carolina and Cape Cod. There, he fell in love with the maritime history of the Northeast.
Moore knew he was interested in maritime law because of this experience, but then he took Professor McCoy’s admiralty law course during his first year of law school, and he was hooked. “That pretty much sealed the deal,” Moore said about the course.
Moore’s experience in Cape Cod ended up helping him get his first job in the maritime law field.
“It was during the summer of 1972 when I mentioned my goal of being a maritime lawyer to a young man who I had met on the Cape named Herbert Mayhew Lord,” Moore said. “At first, he seemed to be overly interested in the fact that I wanted to be a maritime lawyer with questions like ‘Why would you want to be that kind of lawyer?’” “As it turns out, his father was the very same Lord of Burlingham, Underwood, and Lord and the introduction to his father paved the way to my first job.”
Burlingham, Underwood, and Lord is a New York maritime law firm that in the past has represented the owners of the Titanic. Moore worked for that firm until 1980, when he landed with Holland and Knight in Miami. In 2004, Moore started his own firm, which has since grown because of the demand for maritime lawyers in Florida. Although Moore was nervous about starting his own firm at first, he is now glad he made that huge decision.
“It was absolutely wonderful,” Moore said. “I never imagined how different it would be. It was something I wanted to do for a long time. …You don’t really know if your clients will follow you and if the phone will ring.”
Moore and Company is up to six lawyers, and Moore is planning on hiring more soon because of the recent boom in yachting in Florida. Moore has noticed more and more significant yacht owners in South Florida during the past two years, he said.
“Once they’ve made their fortunes to some extent, they say, ‘Well where would I like to live?’” Moore said. “If a yacht is in their plans, it’s often the case that South Florida will come up.” He also practices a smaller amount of aviation law, which is a very similar body of law to maritime, Moore said.
He usually represents yacht owners, but maritime law is a very diverse field, he said.
“It can be a serious personal injury that occurs on a vessel one day; it can be a fire in an engine room that damaged a yacht or a vessel the next day,” Moore said. “It’s construction agreements building vessels all over the world. We have easily 20-25 construction projects ongoing all over the world.”
Moore is currently defending an owner of a yacht that ran aground and damaged parts of a reef in the Florida Keys. Moore successfully defended the yacht owner against the salvors of the ship. The salvors were awarded no money for their work because they acted against public policy, Moore said. Next, Moore will defend the owners in a lawsuit brought by the U.S. government for damaging the reef.
One thing Moore likes about maritime law is the flexibility judges have in making a fair ruling. Unlike in most other courts where judges must rule within the law, judges in maritime cases have more leeway to do what they think is appropriate.
“In state court, you’ll often hear judges say, ‘Well if I had more latitude I would maybe rule differently, but I’m constricted by the law and I have to rule this way,’” Moore said. “We don’t have that in admiralty courts.”
Although Moore represents multimillion-dollar yacht owners, his boating habits are quite scaled down. Moore owns a 35-foot sailboat, he said. “It’s nothing compared to my clients’,” Moore said. “My boat would not be a tender on most of my clients’ yachts.”