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ULaw Business Advisory Board: An interview with Chris Miller

Our Business Advisory Board will support our business students by passing on knowledge and experience. Here we talk with, Chris Miller, Lawyer at leading German bank, Deutsche Bank AG, who offers his insight into the business world and provides our students with some key advice.

Chris is based in Berlin, and brings with him vast experience of contract negotiation and digitalisation. He completed the LPC at our Chester campus in 2013.

I have a quite different career trajectory from most. I am an American and served 9 years in the US Army, which brought me first to Europe -Germany specifically. After my service, I used my government education benefits to attend university but at the time my German was not good enough to go there. So I decided to study in the UK. At first I continued to work full time as a civilian for the US military while I completed an LLB with The Open University. Having completed that, I was accepted for the LPC at The University of Law in Chester. After my law studies, I also completed an MA International Relations and MSc Management and Project Management at Aberystwyth University. As I neared the end of my studies, I was looking for jobs. Through connections, I became aware of legal roles at Deutsche Bank in Berlin, where I applied and have been ever since. So I ended up as an American working as an English lawyer in Germany.

An average day in my role at Deutsche Bank involves a lot of emails and phone calls to advise my internal business colleagues, and to external clients and their counsel regarding contract negotiations. Also reading through large amounts of existing or newly closed financial contracts to ensure the necessary contractual information is captured in internal systems. Mostly reading contracts, advising on their content and making sure the right information gets to the right places to ensure the business works.

Lately the nexus between law and technology has become quite important to my work and I am glad that I studied business in addition to law. As tech advances, firms are looking to take advantage of the benefits of digitalisation and implement them in their business. This will have implications for the legal field as well since firms that execute high volumes of contracts will look to do this in faster, more efficient ways. Understanding the capabilities, but also the limits of what legal tech can do is becoming more and more important. A good old-fashioned understanding of contract law is still quite important, but one also has to learn to balance reducing legal risks for the firm with a good sense for compromise to get business done. I have also develop negotiation skills, the ability to explain complex legal issues to non-lawyers, how to train and pass on knowledge to new or younger colleagues and to brief information on projects to senior management and stakeholders. Working in Germany, now being able to speak German fluently is also of great help.

Studying the LPC after years of studying the theoretical legal knowledge learned in the LLB taught me to focus on the practical. There is a big difference between what the law theoretically provides for and what a client or firm can practically obtain. You may be right in law, but if enforcing your rights costs more time or money than it is worth or destroys a business relationship that is more important than the legal issue at hand, these practical, business-oriented factors must be balanced along with enforcing legal rights. Learning about the actual process of how a civil trial proceeds and how the costs are calculated at the end is important for making this balanced calculation as well. My LPC studies gave me a good understanding of these issues which I continue to use almost daily.

I’m a ULaw alum who uses the knowledge I gained through the LPC as a lawyer on a daily basis, but I am also someone who studied business and works in the financial sector. This experience means I have some insights that can help the Business School to teach the important, practical things to business students that will be directly useful to them in their careers. I hope the diversity and depth of my education, experience and background can be helpful as a Business Advisory Board member.

I really appreciated the practical focus of the LPC at  ULaw and I believe transferring this focus on the practical over to business studies would be to great advantage for students. If they can show up on day one and produce work this will put them ahead.

Honesty and communication are more important in business than people give credit for. Repeating lines from some book on management is not going to cut it and if your people don’t trust you, that will come across in their actions. A leader doesn’t have to know how to do everything but they should try or at least try to know the basics. You cannot expect people to follow you if they don’t think you know what you’re doing. There is a great difference between a manager and a leader. Leaders are the ones who should get ahead—anyone can be a manager. But there are different types of leaders as well. Understanding what a leader should do and what type of leader you should be based upon your own personality, skills and role is very important. Even people in non-management roles can be leaders among their peers. People follow those who are open, honest, and knowledgeable and can bring that all across through good communication skills.

I can think of a lot of challenges for the next generation of business leaders, but to focus on the financial sector, I think that the disruptiveness of FinTech and the entry of non-traditional firms into the financial sector will be quite disruptive for traditional financial firms and the market. The increased competition will provide opportunities and pitfalls. Innovation will be required, but also a sense for which direction to commit to and how far to go. The days of the traditional old brick-and-mortar building society that was open from nine to five during the week are numbered; people want 24-hour, seven-days-a-week access to their money and financial advice and they want to be able to reach every corner of the world. Technology will allow this. Those firms who do not keep up will fall away.

Don’t just try to sound like a business person by repeating lines and buzzwords—actually learn and understand the concepts and be able to apply them. You must be able to recognise the situation in front of you, analyse it, and be able to communicate what is going on and what should be done about it. Anyone can point out an issue. Anyone can gather data on an issue. But the important task is to be able to do this and also present a proposed solution. Be the person who solves issues; not just the person who brings them up.

Work on your communication skills. You have to be able to speak with confidence. You are not going to get far with stage fright or putting people to sleep when you are reading off your cards. But do not become a person who speaks a lot and says nothing. Stay up to date with current issues, especially in the fields of business, technology and finance. Think about innovation.Think about how to digitise a manual process. Think about cost and benefit factors. Someday you will move from the stage of learning about business to actually doing business. If you are not interested in these things, I would question if this is the right field for you to go into.

 

Meet the other members of the ULaw Business Advisory Board.