Legal life in...business advocacy
Stuart Miller, Managing Partner of Miller Rosenfalck LLP, was appointed a 'British Business Advocate' as part of the UK Trade and Investment’s ‘Catalyst scheme’, which assists UK-based small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) and also encourages inward investment into the UK.
Tell us about your firm
We are a boutique international trade and investment law firm. Nearly all the firm’s lawyers speak two or more languages, whilst several are dually admitted in other jurisdictions. As English commercial lawyers, the firm’s cultural goal is to make the business of international trade a more comfortable experience for investors and exporters alike – one that the firm can preferably address in the language of the client’s choice.
From early on you took a ‘country desk’ specialist approach – how has that evolved over time?
In recent years, the firm’s boutique approach has become articulated by sectoral cores among our clients – particularly renewable energy, life sciences, IT / tech /media and hotels and leisure. These core sectors are inherently international and call upon the traditional and emerging legal skills which the firm possesses across the fields of corporate, commercial, employment, property and dispute resolution. They also complement the geographical focus of our Scandinavian, French and German desks in London.
You have an office in London and in Copenhagen – how do you serve your clients in other jurisdictions?
The firm actively nurtures its formal network of connections through its membership of Warwick Legal Network (WLN), which gives us partners across 26 more countries. In addition, we maintain strong connections to non-WLN firms worldwide, and they form the backbone of an active referral relationship.
What are the major opportunities and challenges for your SME clients in the international marketplace?
Presently, the biggest challenge is that if any project needs external funding, that is tough – banks are slow and cautious to process even very sound credit applications and insist on much greater security, external funders are demanding a huge slice of the deal. Not easy for any entrepreneur. The biggest opportunity in value that we see is in the field of renewable energy, where the UK presently attracts a lot of attention from suppliers and investors alike and has recently become a major world player. This is the land-grab sector of this decade and should be the source of considerable job creation too. I would give an honourable mention also to mobile technology, where so much development and marketing spend will continue to be focused for the next few years yet.
How did you get involved in the ‘Catalyst scheme’ and what does it involve?
That appointment followed active participation in a Law Society initiative and a brainstorming session in Chancery Lane with Trade Minister Lord Green. Over 70% of our clients are SMEs; and a similar proportion are either based abroad or are the UK subsidiaries of foreign corporations so membership of the Catalyst scheme is a logical extension for us. As part of this scheme, I recently had the privilege of addressing a business audience in Kazakhstan about the UK government’s anti-corruption initiative and the Bribery Act 2010 which directly affects international trade. And we get to speak to would-be investors in the UK in order to help them find professional advisers, banks and all kinds of practical support upon market entry. This voluntary work was an aspect of what we were already doing, but Catalyst gives it a structure and a bit of oomph!
You describe it as ‘voluntary work’ – but to what extent is this ‘business development’?
The two things go hand in hand. As longstanding and active members of the Law Society’s International Division and through my role as a British Business Advocate, we reinforce our niche international credentials. We get to see and speak to lawyers from across the world and foster our referral networks. We speak at inward trade missions (recent examples were from China and South Africa), support Lexcel International, plus we have taken part in several trade visits to the US and elsewhere, this helps us raise our profile and brings us into contact with potential clients and referral opportunities. International business development really requires long-term investment, it takes time and commitment and my experience is that you get out of it what you put in.