Prof. Dr. Sebastian Ulbrich: the unconventional lawyer

A portrait of the honorary professor in the Faculty of Architecture and Civil Engineering

 © Sebastian Ulbrich

In October 2020, Prof. Dr. Sebastian Ulbrich was confirmed as an honorary professor at FHWS. The specialist in construction law thus follows in his father's footsteps. How he got there and what else sets him apart.

“The students notice very quickly that I don't fit the classic image of a lawyer. I know a lot of colleagues who are simply stiff, fusty or stuck on a specific track.” Prof. Dr. Sebastian Ulbrich is certainly not stiff, fusty or stuck. He describes himself as a very normal guy-next-door type, not particularly spectacular or loud. Wearing a grey jumper, with a full beard turning slightly grey on his face and hair shaved short on his head, that seems about right at first glance. But you can see a glint in his rather small blue eyes when he talks about his work. Small creases highlight his face when he smiles.

An honorary title

Even after so many years, construction law is his passion. A very challenging field as he says himself – and anything but boring. It is for precisely this reason that his lectures at FHWS are very popular. “I try to communicate the contents, which appears dry at first glance, more casually and playfully,” Prof. Dr. Ulbrich says. “It generally then also becomes a very lively lecture.” No wonder, then, that the Faculty of Architecture and Civil Engineering put the 44-year-old forward as an honorary professor at FHWS in 2020. This is 25 years after his father, Prof. Dr. Hans-Benno Ulbrich, was asked to get involved with educating students. “I am delighted by this recognition. After all, I have been involved with FHWS for over twelve years,” lawyer says.

About honorary professorships

Someone is honoured as an honorary professor if they have made an outstanding service contribution to a higher education institution. This includes many years of experience in teaching at higher education institutions, for example. The faculties propose suitable candidates for this. The appointment is ultimately made by the president of the higher education institution – by Prof. Dr. Grebner at FHWS.

The honorary professor becomes a member of the higher education institution with the appointment. The title of “professor” can then be used immediately as an academic title. Appointment as an honorary professor is done in the expectation that the candidate will continue to maintain a close relationship with the higher education institution, make a significant contribution to the development of the curriculum and, upon request by the faculty, also contribute to examinations and research in their specialist area. Holders of an honorary professorship must generally teach courses for two hours per week and semester free of charge. This obligation applies until they turn 63.

President Prof. Dr. Grebner (left) presents honorary professor Dr Ulbrich with the certificate of appointment. (Photo: FHWS / Bolza-Schünemann)

Prof. Dr. Sebastian Ulbrich has taught common law and architectural and construction law at the Faculty of Architecture and Civil Engineering since 2009. Two other areas of activity are project management and legal construction supervision and management. In his teaching activities, he particularly enjoys contact with the young students. “I always try to communicate everything with a practical connection. I am immensely pleased when you can see that the fundamentals have been understood, of course,” the construction lawyer says. 

Foundations laid long ago

The Würzburg-born professor studied law at the Julius Maximilians University of Würzburg. Thanks to the experiences of his father Prof. Hans-Benno Ulbrich, he was able to discover the field of construction law at an early age: “The foundations were already laid to some extent,” Prof. Dr. Sebastian Ulbrich grins. But his father never put pressure on him to go into it. Nevertheless, his father is very pleased: “He continued down the career path that I started on all the same and considers his main task to be giving young architecture or engineering students the legal knowledge which is urgently required today in order for them to understand our legal language.”

After successfully completing the first and second state examinations, Sebastian Ulbrich decided to pursue a doctorate at TU-Darmstadt because the private building sector was already being taught there. During his doctorate, he began working for Ulbrich Rechtsanwälte Partnerschaften – his father's law firm. He and his father left his father's own law firm in 2008. Since then, Prof. Dr. Sebastian Ulbrich has worked as a partner at Fries Rechtsanwälte Partnerschaften. The working relationship with his father continues to work well there. “He always believed in me and has always been there to advise me. That’s probably the secret of how to work together across multiple generations.” His father, Prof. Hans-Benno Ulbrich, is also very proud of the good working relationship with his son: “Today, the term ‘construction law’ is hard to imagine without reference to the name of Ulbrich. It is all the more rewarding for a son to successfully continue this tradition.”

The work at the law firm takes up a lot of time. 60 hours a week is the average minimum. He prefers to work early in the morning when his colleagues and the clients aren't there yet, Ulbrich says. During the coronavirus pandemic, many appointments take place online or over the phone. He is therefore also spending a lot of time in his office, which is nothing particularly out of the ordinary. A few drawings and “legal pictures”, as he describes them himself, hang on the walls. Opposite this is a cabinet filled with colourful files. A dark brown desk stands in the middle of the room. A slightly older model with lighter and darker patches. He got it from his father. It needs to be restored again, Ulbrich admits. He himself sees it rather pragmatically. “We are a medium-sized law firm which places more value on the quality of the work than on the look of the furniture,” he says and grins. 

Great passion

In order to escape the everyday hustle and bustle somewhat, Ulbrich always uses his time very effectively. One great passion that he pursues is travelling. Here too, he travels unconventionally. He’s not the average type. “I prefer to travel with a rucksack with no great comfort or in a camper van. I don't need luxury hotels. I think package holidays are dreadful.” Previously, he travelled through various countries alone or with friends. His wife also shares his love of individual tourism. Soon, he also wants to discover different cultures with his daughter, who was born in December 2020. For this, he would carry his rucksack on his back and strap his daughter in front of him. “Perhaps we shouldn’t travel straight to the wildest jungle, but otherwise I see no problem,” he says.

Two things fascinate him about travelling: “One is nature and the other is the people.” Here too, you can see the spark in his eyes again. He has met the most welcoming people in Asia. In his opinion, backpacking is simply the best way to come into contact with poor and very ordinary people. He has travelled on every continent except South America. 

He likes to snowboard in the winter, here with friends in South Tyrol. (Photo: Sebastian Ulbrich)

“Würzburg home base”

But he always looks forward to getting home. The Main river simply provides excellent quality of life and the city is a good size for him. The almost central location in Germany also makes the city attractive to him because he can get to other cities quickly, which is important as a lawyer. Overall, “Würzburg is not so bad as a home base,” he says and laughs. He particularly likes to get together with friends and acquaintances there. A glass or two of Würzburg red wine doesn’t go amiss either. But he also has no great expectations for it: “I am satisfied with very little. For me, it is enough that the time we spend together is as good as possible.” 

An article by
Alicia Weigel