How I Practice-Michael Miller

Michael Miller
Michael Miller
Law Office of Michael Miller
New York City

1. What are your areas of practice?

My practice is focused on issues to related to wealth management, trusts and estates practice and growing older in society. I am involved in all aspects of estate planning administration and litigation. My practice involves me in many aspects of the human drama: dealing with families in their time of grief, assisting clients facing profound personal challenges, managing all sorts of assets, from a 500-room hotel to a 1 million square foot prime commercial building in Manhattan, as well as disposing collections of fine art and jewelry. I didn’t get to this point all of a sudden. Building a practice is a long, arduous challenge. From the outset, you really need to have a solid business plan and think through what your needs are, short-term and long-term. Technology is an important component in leveling the playing field if you are in a solo or small firm setting. You need to effectively represent your clients and use your resources wisely. Additionally, being active in the organized bar is of enormous benefit.

2. Describe a typical day for you?

I am a fairly disciplined person. Structure is important. I go through email in a timely fashion and return calls in a timely manner. That is very important. One of the biggest complaints about attorneys is poor responsiveness. By the way, I encourage younger attorneys to use emails instead of texts for record-keeping purposes. I have found that younger lawyers tend to send text messages more frequently.  This can be problematic, as texts do not afford the opportunity to maintain a memorialization of the communication as effectively as one can with emails.  

3. Where do you practice? Do you have a stand-alone office or home office?
I have always had a stand-alone office. At the beginning of my career, I shared office space. I later sublet space in a larger office that had resources and facilities that were helpful as I grew my practice. Right now, I have the best of both worlds. My office is in the suite of a large national firm. It helps me provide services as a solo that I couldn’t always provide. If a matter is more appropriate for another attorney, I can refer it. Equipment purchases, Internet access and overhead have to be carefully considered when you go into private practice.

4. What is the most rewarding thing about having your own practice?
The sense of freedom it affords, although there is a reason for the endurance of Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story comment in 1829: “The law is a jealous mistress and requires a long and constant courtship. It is not to be won by trifling favors, but by lavish homage.”

5. What are some of the challenges about having your own practice?
 I cannot stress the importance of the business aspect of running a practice. Knowing what your needs are financially is critically important. You also cannot be too well-informed in your area of practice. Redundancy reminds you that these things are really, really important. Take as many law practice management CLE classes as possible. A mentor educated me on office management; there are no shortcuts. Also, a very practical challenge: getting clients.  Eventually, most of your clients come from referrals. I found it useful to be active in non-professional organizations: on charity boards, my childrens’ school committees, etc.  I didn’t get clients right away from those activities but over time, a good deal of legal work was generated from those relationships. 

6. What are your must-have tech tools/apps?
A desktop computer and laptop/iPad. The cloud is useful but you must be cognizant of ethical obligations to protect the confidentiality and secrets of your clients. Depending on your type of practice, you will have different software needs. Certainly, billing and financial management software can be very helpful.

7. When and where do you interact with other attorneys?
I believe in the organized bar for many reasons. As a practitioner, I have the opportunity to network and get to know other attorneys. Sometimes you need advice and other times you need to refer a matter that is not in your area of expertise or is not in your local area. I believe in technology; I like social media, but there is nothing better than personal contact at bar-related events.  Also, frankly, it helps to be reminded from time to time that we are part of an extraordinary profession that helps people – we are problem solvers.  I often comment that there are a lot of lawyer jokes but when people have a problem they don’t call a comedian – they call us. Also, in the daily stresses of life, it is sometimes easy to lose sight of the fact that we are members of the greatest profession ever created. Attending bar events can help remind us that we are all part of this incredible quilt that is the rule of law. 

When I first started out, I joined the Trusts and Estates Committee of NYCLA and met a phenomenal professional who was about 15 years older than me. Over the years, we developed into a very strong friendship.  We started a study group comprised of lawyers in the trusts and estate field, some in private practice in both large and small firm setting, some that worked for financial institutions, some who worked in the court system.  The diversity of practice-settings provided valuable perspective over the years.  It was a terrific thing to be a part of and it never would have happened if I hadn’t joined that committee.  

8. How do you stay informed with legal news/developments?
I read the New York Law Journal online every night before the print version appears the next day. That way I am well-informed before I start the day.  I attend a great deal of bar association meetings and am a member of a number of bar association committees, which help me to stay abreast of legal news and developments.

9. If a fellow attorney decided they wanted to start their own practice, what is the one thing they should know?

It’s not easy. You need to be prepared for bumps along the road. However, you can minimize them with a good, solid business plan and discipline.