Mayer Brown has a new partner-in-charge for its Chicago office: Britt M. Miller, co-leader of the firm’s global Antitrust & Competition practice. Miller succeeds Rebecca Eisner, who has led the Chicago office since 2015. We recently spoke with Miller about her new position and her career.
Congratulations on the new position. How did it come about?
The management committee worked with Rebecca to identify possible candidates within the Chicago office. They looked at a number of folks in different management positions, practice area leaders, that sort of thing, and ultimately, as I understand it, talked to a number of the other leaders in the office about their opinions of who should be the next partner-in-charge. Then they came to a decision and gave me a call.
Any hesitation in taking it?
You are replacing another woman in your new role. What do you think Mayer Brown has done well to promote and retain women?
I think it’s been primarily about opportunity. Advancement from my perspective is part effort and part opportunity. Yes, you have to make the effort. Yes, you have to do the work. Yes, you have to be the one that drives forward and shows initiative and whatnot. But there has to be the opportunity available to you to take that chance on yourself and have that chance taken on you.
I don’t think anyone would claim that we’re perfect or that we don’t have room for improvement. I think every firm does and every company quite frankly does. But we have double-downed on our efforts. We have established pretty aggressive targets to increase the number of women partners and women leaders at the firm. The intent of which is to ensure that the firm holds itself accountable in achieving its goal of providing an environment that values diversity and allows all of its people to develop to their full potential.
What guides your leadership philosophy and style?
I am the partner-in-charge so I suppose that means the buck stops with me. But I do not pretend to have all the answers. I do not pretend to be the most creative person on every single topic. And so for me, it’s important that the strategy for the office be driven by people who are in the office. That means working closely with the practice area leaders so that what we are doing as an office supports their practice and allows their practices to grow and to flourish. It means working with our administrative staff, ensuring that they have a voice and that they are being heard. My dad’s a military guy, so I guess I could change my philosophy to, “leave no person behind,” which is absolutely true.
Who has had the biggest influence on your career?
I got to say my mom, or I’m in trouble. I don’t know that I could, quite frankly, break it down to one person. I can point to certain small vignettes of my life. I mean my father certainly made sure that his daughters were very strong, independent women. And he fostered that and brought a lot of discipline to life. My mother always wanted to be a lawyer, so she was beyond ecstatic when I decided to go to law school. And she thinks my life is more like “LA Law” or “Law and Order,” and I hate to disabuse her of that, but I do.
But from a professional standpoint, I think the first person I would point to is a partner who has retired and actually lives a wonderful life out on a ranch in Oregon. Her name is Priscilla Weaver. She was a partner here in the litigation group in Chicago. Priscilla was a force of nature and I learned a lot from her. We still keep in touch to this day.
One of my main mentors was a partner here was Andy Marovitz who has really helped me develop my antitrust practice. I got involved in one of his cases as a second-year associate and absolutely fell in love with antitrust and I’ve been working with Andy ever since. So 18 years later, we are very close friends. We know each other’s families and it’s been a wonderful relationship. He really was very generous in putting me forward as lead on any number of things very early in my career.
You are a rainmaker. Is that something that you have to learn or does it involve more innate skills?
It’s probably a little bit of both. Everybody thinks that there’s some secret handshake or secret handbook on how to build business and that the partners are hiding this under lock and key somewhere. The reality is, there’s not.
I walked in having zero connections with which to possibly generate business. And so it was more as I grew in the practice, it became clear that what worked for somebody else was not necessarily going to work for me, and vice versa.
The advice I try to give our junior associates is really, “Find what makes you comfortable. Find what works for you.” I try to approach business development from two very simple perspectives and that is excellence in work product and relationships.
We’re speaking in late 2018, which has been quite a year for you. You not only have been named partner-in-charge of the Chicago office, but you were also involved in an amazing pro bono matter, in which you reunited two Brazilian mothers with their children in an immigration case. How do you put this year in context?
I don’t know that this one is going to get put in context as much as it’s going to be a standout. It’s been an incredibly challenging year. From a work perspective, we’ve been very busy. And that’s great. And I’ve gotten to work with a lot of new clients.
My experience in July with helping the two Brazilian mothers reunite with their children was special. I think I told our chairman, “This is why we all went to law school.” It was an incredibly rewarding experience to really have a literally instantaneous impact on someone’s life. And the team of folks that I worked with—Chris Comstock, who’s a partner in our litigation group, and Mike Bornhorst, and one of our young female associates, Priya Desai—they did an amazing job over the course of two weeks.
And the tears of joy on those mothers’ faces are something that none of us will forget. We’ve all been forever changed, for good, based on that experience. And I think that, if anything, it sort of renewed a little bit of faith and hope that we have the ability to do some great things on the platform on which we find ourselves.
Partner-in-charge is sort of the next challenge. I’ve never been one to back down from a challenge, and so this one’s going to be a big one. So it’s been a great year of personal and professional reward and it’s going to be tough to beat, that’s for sure. But I’ll always try.