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Magnetism at Work

Polar Opposites Patricia James’ and David Miller’s strong bond proves a formidable force in the fight for victims of medical malpractice.

When David Miller and Patricia James met in 1988, the only things they seemed to have in common were that they both lived in San Diego, and were both attorneys. Indeed, Patricia was a North Carolina born contract attorney working in corporate and securities law, who’d taken a temporary position working on the infamous Walter Wencke case. By contrast, civil litigator David Miller was a Marine, Ranger qualified, who’d been a platoon and company commander, serving in the Republic of Vietnam in Southeast Asia in 1969. Now, 25 years later, James and Miller are still stark contrasts to one another. But, according to Miller, it is precisely that diversity that has made them such a formidable force when it comes to serving victims of medical malpractice.

Varied Backgrounds
James’ and Miller’s initial fascination with the law stemmed from different passions. “I wanted to alter the outcome for others and myself,” says Miller. “America is one of the few places in the world where one individual can challenge a large company or institution and let 12 people decide who is right and who is wrong,” he adds. James—PJ as she’s known—chose law for a different reason. “I have to say that I was influenced by the Perry Mason television show. However, you have to know that I was young and impressionable,” she quips. “By the time I was 16, I knew that I wanted to become an attorney because it seemed to fit all of my criteria and interests. I liked to read. I liked to write, so I could see myself being on the research side of the law. I liked to analyze. And I did not want to be given a gold watch when I turned 65 and told to be on my way,” she laughs.

For Miller, the desire to alter the outcome for others and himself initially led him to a career in criminal law. But after several years of work in the field, he realized, “I didn’t like being around criminals,” he says frankly. However, he did enjoy trial work quite a bit. “It is exciting and energizing,” he says.

Because his father had worked in the pharmacological field, and several other family members worked in the medical field, Miller felt comfortable with the medicine attached to legal cases. It was no surprise then, that when he launched his civil practice in 1982, a career in plaintiff work and specifically medical malpractice, would clearly suit his preferences.

On the other hand PJ, who’d graduated from Cal Western in 1979, wasn’t much interested in trial work. “I like doing the grunt work,” she says of her love of composing motions, and writing in general. “I didn’t want courtroom work,” she adds honestly. But more importantly, she realized after several years of work in corporate securities, that “it was such a narrow area. I was not expanding my horizons.”

Chance Meeting: Opposites Attract
By 1988, Miller had a thriving practice, and James had at least partially removed herself from the seemingly endless Wencke case. She was doing contract work for an old friend from law school in the same suite Miller had his office. “Dave’s law clerk had gotten a job with CalTrans, and one day he asked if I would like to do some work for him. I began working with him, handling a variety of cases involving personal injury and medical malpractice,” she recalls. In 1989, the two shifted focus to primarily specializing in medical malpractice.

The proverbial bug had bitten. “Medical malpractice cases were very different from what I had previously worked on in my career. Dave was very knowledgeable about the medical as well as the legal aspects of medical malpractice cases. I started learning from him and decided that I really enjoyed working on those cases,” she says. Miller remembers the meeting similarly. “We had a very symbiotic kind of relationship. And I knew from my time in the Marine Corps that the best teams are the teams where there is diversity,” he says. Laughing he adds, “We get along very well, but we very much disagree at times. Yet, we’re really good at finding common ground.”

As the professional relationship continued to prove successful, James found the rewards from working in medical malpractice to grow proportionally, as well. “Unfortunately, when it comes to working in the medical malpractice field, obtaining a satisfactory outcome for clients is often as good as it gets,” she says candidly. “We know that money is not going to completely fix someone who has suffered a catastrophic injury or been a victim of medical malpractice, but our goal is to make life as good as it can be for our clients,” she adds. “We are here to help people make the best out of an awful situation, and when a client says ‘I really appreciate what you did,’ it feels good.”

By 1993, the pair had hit a winning streak, and James was made associate. The natural evolution of the partnership continued with Miller serving as the firm’s trial attorney. I’m pretty comfortable showing up at a point of attack,” he says. He also knows most of the defense counsel he now faces off against. And he’s well aware that “if you don’t go to trial, you won’t get a good outcome for your client,” he adds. The pair’s success continued and, in 1999, James became a managing partner.

A Force To Be Reckoned With
For her part, James relishes her role in the firm’s cases, which really begins once Miller has done the medical background work. “I’m behind the scenes moving the cases from the initial stage of preparing the complaint through the interim stage of motions and written discovery and finally to the final stage of settlement or trial,” she says.  Indeed, both attorneys are involved in every case and, although there are some cases the firm rejects, “we encourage people to contact us even if other attorneys or firms have turned down their claim,” Miller says.

Because the firm is open to most cases, it’s not surprising that Miller and James have achieved results for clients with extremely diverse cases. “We represented a service member and his wife with regard to the birth of one of their children who allegedly lost one half of his blood volume when the catheter in his foot became dislodged. It was a long and difficult case, but we obtained a very satisfactory outcome for the family,” James explains. Moreover, “the family still keeps in touch and even sends us photos (of the child) from time to time,” James adds.

Another example of the diversity of the clients the firm represents involves cases of psychological malpractice. In Mason v. Marriage and Family Center, 228 Cal.App.3d 537 (1991) and Marriage and Family Center v. Superior Court (DePottel) 288 Cal.App.3d 537 (1991), both addressed delayed discovery, and disputes over statutes of limitations, stemming from when the injury began.

Unbreakable Bond
With successes such as these under their belts, Miller and James knew that for all of their seeming differences, the two were a terrific team; and in fact, the bond remained firmly intact despite a physical distance of more than 1000 miles. “I moved to Mancos, in the southwest part of Colorado in 2001 to be near my remaining family, following the death of my mother. I continued to work for Dave as an independent contractor, and also worked for various attorneys in Cortez and Durango,” she says. James remains a member of the Colorado Bar Association and is a former member of the Four Corners Bar Association and Southwest Colorado Bar Association.

However, even for James, who enjoys solitary hobbies such as reading, playing computer games, and blogging for the firm’s website; the isolation proved too much. She returned to San Diego in 2004, picking up right where she’d left off with Miller. He had kept the practice running seamlessly, while continuing his involvement with the National Institute of Trial Advocacy, and as a Board Certified Civil Trial Specialist with the National Board of Trial Advocacy.

In the 25 years since the pair first met, they remain fundamentally different people. Miller has been involved in athletics his entire life, working out five days a week, and enjoying backpacking in the High Sierras, while reaping enormous joy from watching the children in his life excel in water polo and swimming. He’s also an extremely visible attorney, who has been awarded a rating of AV Pre-eminent by Lexis-Nexis® Martindale-Hubbell. Super Lawyers has named him one of the top attorneys in San Diego in the area of medical malpractice since 2008. Likewise, he is a fellow with the Litigation Counsel of America, and has associated into cases with other counsel, and welcomes the opportunity to do so in the future.

James continues to love reading and writing, and currently writes the (often hilarious) firm blog. “I look for subjects that I find interesting and hopefully the readers will also. I try to inject some humor when appropriate, which is most of the time. So far they have covered a wide range of topics: how lawyers are represented on television, loss of consortium, the cap on non-economical damages in medical malpractice cases, puppy mills, balance billing, socialized medicine and health insurance, and even my colonoscopy,” she says with a chuckle.

But for all of their differences, Miller and James share the same commitment to succeeding for their clients, and utilize their own strength from diversity to help the wide range of claimants coming to their doors. And, it may soon be time to add to their winning team. “We will continue to grow as professionals in both our medical knowledge and resources,” says Miller. James agrees, “We anticipate hiring one or two associates to train, preferably one for the writing and detail work, and the other to do the trial work. We see these individuals as being ambitious, having incentive and looking to contribute to the growth of the firm.” For now though, the two enjoy the balance they each get from using their individual strengths to improve the lives of others who have suffered through no fault of their own.


Miller and James LLP

2550 Fifth Avenue Suite 815
San Diego, CA 92103

Jennifer Hadley

Jennifer Hadley is a Staff Writer for Attorney Journal

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About the Author: Jennifer Hadley is a Staff Writer for Attorney Journal

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