The IT boy

After 18 years at Clifford Chance, IT whizz Christopher Millard has finally found his niche at Linklaters. Kathryn Hobbs reports

Christopher Millard, the man who dared to do the unthinkable when he crossed the magic circle in June, is a self-confessed geek – but “not too geeky”. Unlike his IT counterparts on the groovy West Coast, baby-faced Millard is a smart, buttoned-up rather than button-down kind of guy. Now head of Linklaters’ IT and communications practice following his eyebrow-raising departure from Clifford Chance, he is eloquent and driven by a deep-seated belief in both his area of specialisation and his own abilities.

“I got into this 20 years ago when it was a pretty obscure practice area,” he says. “I stumbled across an article on software rights and somehow a light came on in my head. I thought, ‘This has got to be the future’.”

Well, it is not Nostradamus, but it hasn’t done Millard any harm: “I decided that night in 1982 that I wanted to be what was then called a computer lawyer.”

Millard first discovered the potential for an IT-focused practice some 20 years ago while he was scouting about for a subject to write his masters thesis on. At that point his enthusiasm for his rock band informed his choice: he was looking into music law but happened upon software law instead.

There is little evidence of the stereotypical rock fan in the suited and booted Millard before me. It is instead much easier to portray him as something of a zealot – a high priest, worshipping at the technology altar. He is certainly enthralled by his subject and seems to have more than a hint of IT prophet about him. His career is littered with a series of ‘firsts’.

He explains: “I like using technology to be more efficient in the way I work. I was the first lawyer at Clifford Chance to have a PC on my desk. I was responsible for launching the firm’s website in 1995 and its first online service, Nextlaw, in 1998. Indeed, one of the attractions for me of Linklaters is the way it’s so well managed in terms of IT infrastructure and business services generally.

“I do like to be first. In fact, one of the really galling things for me was that Linklaters got there first with Blue Flag, which came out before Nextlaw. I’ve been teased about that by [partner] Paul Nelson ever since I arrived here. So I’ve finally got to the place that did it first.”

Millard hit the headlines in June when he made one of the few inter-magic circle moves. His decision came as a surprise because he had been a Clifford Chance devotee for his entire career, having trained with the firm and subsequently spent 10 years there as a partner.

“When the approach came from Linklaters last year I wasn’t actually looking to move,” he recalls. “After 18 years at Clifford Chance, including 10 years as a partner, I really thought I was a ‘lifer’. Initially I was sceptical, but after months of discussions I became convinced that this is the place to be in terms of actually putting into practice the ambitions that a number of firms have – to become truly integrated global firms. Not surprisingly, given my bias towards technology, I think that the technology platform is going to be a key component in building an integrated global firm.

“I joined Clifford Turner, having been round all the big firms, including Linklaters, and concluded that it was the most advanced in its thinking on international practice. It was really determined to build a global law firm even back then. And the firm also already had an interest in IT law.” That was in 1984, the year BT was privatised and IT and telecoms legislation moved forward with the Telecoms Act and the Data Protection Act. “It was a very good time to get into practice.”

Millard qualified in 1986 and was charged with setting up the firm’s computer and communications group – the first international industry-focused practice group. “That was quite an unusual thing to do as a newly qualified lawyer, but because I was so keen on it I was basically allowed to get on with it. I enjoy starting things up, building things up like that,” he boasts. “I guess I didn’t think that I was particularly ambitious at the time, but I remember when I was clearing out my desk at Clifford Chance I came across an amusing in-house magazine from that year when I was still an articled clerk, which described me as the articled partner. I’d forgotten about that.”

There is now little to choose between the big firms when assessing their international aspirations. Linklaters has shown itself equally capable of tramping its geographical footprints across the globe. This appeal, together with its pre-eminent corporate focus and interest in turning technological developments into a competitive advantage, helped lure Millard.

He has been there for little more than a month and is already converted. “It’s a very exciting and quite ambitious move by Linklaters to be the first major law firm to roll out the SAP platform worldwide,” he says. “I think it will give a real competitive edge to the firm in terms of dealing with clients that want to use us in lots of different jurisdictions. For me, that was very appealing because it shows a level of commitment.”

I’m sorry to say that Millard is preaching to the resolutely unconverted. I’m sure the repercussions of these exciting technological developments will be extremely important for Linklaters, but they are quite difficult to get overly enthusiastic about. I ask whether any unreconstructed Linklaters partners are equally difficult to convince.

Millard says: “I think what really drives partners in a firm like this is what the clients want; and increasingly partners are hearing from clients that they want enhanced services in some way or other that are going to necessitate the use of technology. They want things faster. They want things in a better presentational format. They want to be able to access stuff online. That’s the real driver.”

But are there any partners of that older generation who simply prefer pen and paper? “I’m glad to say that, from the senior management down, there’s an awareness of the importance of our IT infrastructure and our IT interface with our clients.” This must make quite a change from Clifford Chance, where the technophobic element delayed a vote on its governance review by being unable to fill in the online forms correctly.

Millard has taken charge of a team of 20 lawyers, concentrating on non-contentious IT, telecoms and media-related matters, including outsourcing and IT procurement deals and regulatory work. He is already working for clients that he had relationships with at Clifford Chance and is looking forward to getting his hands on some of Linklaters’ illustrious clients.

“The great thing is, because the technology and the business models and the law are constantly in a state of flux, and have been since I started looking at them 20 years ago, there’s no scope for getting bored. You can reinvent yourself every few years,” he enthuses.

Millard doesn’t really seem to need reinventing. He already has enough personas. He is at the top of his profession; he is able to develop an IT strategy for one of the City’s most technologically pioneering firms; and he also keeps an eye on the more academic side of his subject. Although only a visiting professorial fellow, he started teaching IT law at the University of London in 1986 and set up a telecoms LLM in 1990. This man gives geeks a good name.
Christopher Millard
Head of IT and communications practice