MLB Graduate Story: Edder Cifuentes
Please introduce yourself. What’s your name and where are you from? What is your academic background and what did you do before you joined the program?
My name is Edder Cifuentes, I am a lawyer from Chile, MLB Alumnus from the Class 2013-2014 and currently a PhD Student at Bucerius Law School. I studied my LL.B. at the University of Chile in Santiago and at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark. Before joining the program I worked as a corporate and M&A lawyer in my home country Chile, first as part of the South Cone legal team of The Coca-Cola Company and then at one of the major law firms of Santiago, Bofill Mir & Álvarez Jana, where I was senior associate of the Corporate / M&A area.
What made you decide to apply especially for the MLB at Bucerius Law School?
I was looking for something beyond a traditional LL.M., which I knew well from the experience of friends and colleagues who had attended programs in some of the most reputed Universities of the US and UK. The MLB program at Bucerius, with its focus put on the lifecycle of an enterprise, seemed quite attractive and innovative in that respect. In particular the pool of lecturers at Bucerius struck me as impressive with its blend of outstanding professors such as Schmidt, Veil, Kaemmerer, Kröll, just to name a few, and vastly experienced practitioners, from both law and business. And then of course Hamburg it’s a place apart; once it has become your home, no place else seems to be good enough.
What has been the greatest challenge you faced?
I think big-city life is not fundamentally different, so the adaption phase from Santiago to Hamburg ran quite smoothly. The greater challenge was actually to stop my challenging, performance-driven and stressful work as a corporate lawyer in Santiago in its tracks and start all over again, this time as a student. With student routines, student budget, study groups, exam preparation and so on. Luckily, the process was made enormously easier due in no little part to the MLB team led by Dean Larsen; it goes too much unsaid, but in the end one really appreciates how the team was consistently so warm and helpful to students.
What was the greatest benefit?
Professionally, the MLB program is a great opportunity for all students, but especially for those who have practiced corporate law for some years. For them, the program is an extraordinary place to share ideas and experiences and to expose themselves to the input of excellent professors, from both practitice and academia, and also that from fellow students, of different law traditions and backgrounds, who have different approaches - some more theoretical some more pragmatic, but all of them incredibly enriching. Especially exciting for me was the exchange among fellow MLBs of notions on how the law is to be understood and lived by, which was ignited in the classroom but usually continued at the Bucerius cafeteria, or in spring and summer days, in the gardens that surround the school. This process of sharing and exchanging ideas, combined with the valuable learning I obtained from the program, have certainly made a difference to the way I understand and practice law today. And at a personal level I wouldn’t even know where to start: I would just say that I met people during my MLB year that I hope to keep calling my friends for many years to come.
What would you say is the USP of the MLB at Bucerius?
The program is truly tailor-made and this is noticeable just by looking at its structure: you can tell that those who designed it know their alumni‘s, intellectual and professional interests well and have kept good track of their career paths after they finish the program. By now the MLB at Bucerius is a well-oiled, neatly functioning machine, with a solid Alumni track-record: just to talk about my class, all of those who stayed in Germany and those who left after the program, have all found positions in companies or law firms and developed successful careers.
What have you been doing professionally since graduation?
After graduation I started working immediately as a foreign associate in the Cologne office of the German law firm Oppenhoff & Partner. Here I joined the team of the partner Alf Baars, whom together with his traditional German Corporate/M&A practice has since years has developed a portfolio of clients who are active in the German-Latin American business. We focused on advising German and European clients on their investment projects in Latin America, as well as Latin American clients, both export and industrial companies and private clients, on their business in Germany or with German companies. In the last four years we have continued to make this business segment grow within the firm, and luckily quite successfully so. In December last year I was promoted to junior partner.
You are known as the only foreign expert for the Chilean market and first Chilean lawyer that holds the position as a junior partner in a traditional German law firm. How did you get there?
At first, without planning it, my original idea, before coming to Germany was to spend one year working as foreign associate in a big law firm in the USA after the MLB, and that was already arranged for. However, the idea of staying in Germany grew as a feeling slowly but steadily inside me, and by the time I was finishing my internship at Oppenhoff & Partner in Cologne, the same law firm I work for now, I was already convinced that living and finding a place here in Germany was way more stimulating and challenging - almost pioneering for someone with my background - than going to work to New York or Miami. That feeling is what got to me where I am today. The wind has also been at our backs: In the last years several Latin American economies have been working hard to push their own boundaries and become more international. German investors and companies have started to believe in the increasing potential of the region and as a result, German-Latin American business relationships have thrived.
Finally could you please tell us about the experience of working as a foreign associate in a traditional German law firm.
It is a challenge, but a challenge for everyone involved. I feel fortunate however to have chosen the right place at Oppenhoff & Partner to navigate this experience. I can candidly say that before coming to Cologne I had no clue what to expect, had never heard of the “Kölner” mentality and had just a vague idea of the city. So I had no preconception in mind but more or less had the impression that the locals were cosmopolitan, open-minded and friendly- in the meantime, I realized this idea has cliché-status. But as with any cliché, there is a great deal of truth in it: this has been confirmed at Oppenhoff & Partner where I have found helpful and friendly colleagues and made good friends. The culture within Oppenhoff, highly international as it is, is characterized by the “Kölner” credo: to cherish the old tradition of openness and broad-mindedness. It is therefore no coincidence that the firm has won many awards as a great place to work, and is this year nominated for Azur Innovation 2019 for its advanced market position in areas like Diversity, Legal Tech, Pro Bono, Work-Life-Balance among others. I am happy to be part of this team and hope to continue to be here for many years to come.