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MILLER TIME

Craig Miller’s Solo Practice Is Born of Instinct and an Independent Spirit

AttorneyoftheMonth_2013Craig Miller is honest when he talks of mourning the recent passing of his partner and mentor of 22 years, Harvey Levine. When Levine, nationally recognized trial attorney and expert in insurance, finally retired from practice in 2010, Craig Miller was his only partner in Levine & Miller. Although he admits to missing Levine deeply, he’s grateful that throughout the 22 years he spent working with Levine, he also remained first and foremost a hands-on attorney. “I fight and battle to win. By that I mean it is me doing the fighting. I prepare the complaint, write and oppose the motions, prepare the discovery, conduct and defend the depositions, try the cases if they need to be tried, and handle every aspect of the appeals. I do very little delegation on my cases and I do not come in at the end for a star turn. I am familiar with every aspect of the case every step of the way,” Miller says.

For his clients—who run the gamut of municipalities, business entities and individuals—Miller’s fiercely competitive nature has resulted in numerous seven figure results in settlements and trials against large insurance companies who he says, “have decided, usually arbitrarily, that they will not fulfill their obligations under the insurance policies.” In fact, several of his published cases have hundreds of citing references, and are considered to be benchmark cases in the Insurance Bad Faith arena. However, unlike many attorneys, Miller didn’t have lifelong dreams of becoming a powerhouse attorney. He just knew that whatever he did, he was going to have to make sure that he didn’t need to rely on others to be a success.

Self Reliance as Foundation for Success
Green HeadshotGrowing up in Detroit, Miller says it was his father who instilled in him his independent spirit. “My dad grew up in the Great Depression and inculcated in me a great work ethic and high moral standards,” Miller says. “He started his own construction company at age 40. I went to work with him when I was 8. We bought lots, built homes on them and hoped we sold them,” he says. “My dad was the first to tell me that I couldn’t rely on anyone to make a living. He emphasized the risks of depending upon on others to take care of you.”

It was Miller’s mother however, who pushed Craig to go to law school. “After I graduated from college, the economy was a rollercoaster. My mother encouraged me to go to law school so that I might have a better future and the ability to find work outside the Detroit area if necessary. I went, and she was right.”

After graduation from Southwestern University School of Law in 1984, it was time for Miller to put his independent spirit to the test, and look for work as an attorney. “After finishing law school, I came to San Diego to look for work. I had done very well in school, but I knew absolutely no one here. I went door-to-door, handing out my resume to law firms. After several months, I was given a part-time job with a desk in the copy room in the office of a solo practitioner,” he says of his entrance to the field of law.

Eventually, he wound up working for a defense firm, where he stayed for several years before receiving a career changing phone call. “At the defense firm, there were probably 15 attorneys. One of the attorney’s secretaries had left the firm and gone on to work with Harvey Levine. Evidently, she liked my work, and had recommended me to Harvey. I got a call to come and interview with him even though I had no experience doing plaintiff’s work. I have to say, that was pure luck,” he adds.

However, going to work with Levine was not going to be a meal ticket for Miller. “Gaining his trust and faith was not easy. He was an extraordinarily demanding guy, who was straightforward and bottom-lined. But I immediately knew that this was a great place to work. I felt like I was representing the right people,” Miller adds of transitioning to plaintiffs’ work. Moreover, his new mentor was really good at “making you feel like the odds weren’t against you, but were against the insurance companies,” he says. “Once I was exposed to the complexity and variety of the work, I was hooked and I knew that if I applied myself, and committed to learning, I would be doing good work,” he continues.

Miller indeed did a lot of good work. Although he spent years observing Harvey’s “enormous skills and intellect,” Miller was always a self-proclaimed “worker bee.” In fact, throughout the 22 years he worked with Levine, Miller always maintained his own cases, not only due to his fiercely independent nature, but also due to inherent aptitudes for writing, speaking and fighting, three major traits necessary to be a successful attorney.

INSIDE SHOT 1

Litigation as a Natural Fit
“There are three major tools that serve me as a litigator,” Miller says. And in his opinion, they aren’t traits that can necessarily be taught. “I have loved to read my entire life. Being a voracious reader helped me to become a great writer. As a result, I’ve written my way out of lots of problems,” he jokes.

But in all seriousness, Miller firmly believes that successful attorneys have to have a natural aptitude for words. From reading, comes better writing, and from writing, comes great speaking. “Fortunately, I have a knack for words. Speaking and writing come naturally to me,” he says, which is at least partly responsible for his numerous successes with clients. However, without his inherent competitive nature, reading, writing and speaking wouldn’t have earned him an AV Rating from Martindale Hubbard, nor would it have earned him such widespread respect in his industry.

By way of example, attorney Mark Flory, Partner with Harrington, Foxx, Dubrow & Canter, LLP in Los Angeles said of Miller, “Several years ago, I defended a large and contentious insurance bad faith case that Craig prosecuted. It was a very complicated case with a great deal of money at stake and high emotions in play. Craig is one of the smartest attorneys I’ve fought against. He’s a gentleman, but he’s very tough, and very professional. When you’re dealing with Craig, you really have to bring your A game.”

Miller’s professionalism coupled with his tenacity has indeed served him well. “I work hard for my clients and I have an established history of securing excellent results,” Miller says. “The results are the byproduct of a very competitive nature, and tons of experience.” But his results extend far beyond monetary rewards for clients and the occasional six figure referral fee to fellow attorneys; indeed, they extend to attorneys he will likely never meet.

For example, in Mathews v. Government Employees Ins. Co. 23 F.Supp.2d 1160 (S.D.C.A 1998), Miller “represented a class of individuals against Geico Insurance Company, arising out of its failure to inform job applicants that it was using credit reports to deny employment. It has 318 citing references and established important guidelines regarding the ‘reasonable procedures’ defense in actions based on the Fair Debt Collection Act,” Miller recounts.

Several years later, Miller again helmed a lawsuit that would further solidify his reputation as an attorney to be reckoned with in the field of Insurance Bad Faith. “One of my published cases, Major v. Western Home Ins. Co. (2009) 169 Cal.App.4th 1197 has over 454 citing references, (including 43 cases and 170 appellate court documents) and is considered a benchmark case in the insurance bad faith arena. The actual damages in the case were only $35,000 but the jury awarded a total over $1.1 million dollars in damages against the insurance company for its failure to promptly and fairly pay insurance benefits to the victims of the 2003 Cedar Fire,” Miller explains.

INSIDE SHOT 2

Naturally, Miller’s clients were ecstatic with the results he fought hard to win for them, as they were able to build a new life. Elsa Major says “We were in a big mess, having lost our home and all of our possessions in the wild fire. Our insurance company failed us. As soon as Craig took over, all of our worries evaporated. Craig worked tirelessly on our behalf before, during, and after our trial. Because of Craig’s tenacious efforts, our case was a complete success and the verdict was upheld through several appeal attempts. We are forever grateful.”

The Major case was unique in that it became the blueprint for how to maximize damages in bad faith, after State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. v. Campbell, 538 U.S. 408 (2003). That case, wherein the U.S. Supreme Court held that the due process clause should limit punitive damage awards to less than ten times the size of compensatory damages, was widely hailed as a blow to trial attorneys and a coup for large corporations. Yet, Miller’s victory in Major v. Western Home Insurance Co., brought to light ways for attorneys to increase the ratio of rewards to include emotional distress. The case has served to “empower attorneys again,” Miller remarks.

Based on the results Miller earns for his clients, it’s certainly not surprising that he’s a Top Rated Lawyer in Insurance Bad Faith, in San Diego Magazine. Nor is it any wonder that he serves as the Chairman of the San Diego Bar Association-Insurance Bad Faith Section. While Insurance Bad Faith is certainly the bulk of his caseload, Miller has also represented municipalities including the City of San Diego, Carlsbad and Newport Beach in disputes, as well as business entities including Jenny Craig, Guest Services. More recently, he’s found working on elder abuse cases to be incredibly rewarding as well.

“I recently represented several very elderly people who were scammed out of their entire savings by a financial broker. The problem with the case was that there was very little insurance money available, and many claimants on the policy. The plaintiffs’ lawyers agreed to work together at the mediation, rather than pursue their claims on an individual basis and thereby leave some claimants without any recovery,” Miller says. “It was the best and most satisfactory result we could have obtained for all concerned,” he explains.

Miller Time
StairsAlthough Miller has always relied on his own hard work and natural aptitudes for writing, speaking and fighting for the benefits of his client, he does not shy away from giving praise to those who have motivated him to continue to work hard.

“Harvey often said that if he ever needed to hire an attorney to represent him, it would be me,” he recalls fondly. As a way of paying forward the mentorship he received from Levine, Miller strives to provide the same sort of mentorship to fellow attorneys. Kevin Wheeler, Partner with Higgs, Fletcher & Mack LLP, says “Craig Miller hired me as a law clerk over 15 years ago while I was a law student. From the beginning, he was my mentor, both professionally and personally. Craig has always been able to boil away the irrelevant details and focus on the important issues. His laser-like focus is something I still aspire to. To this day, I continue to employ what Craig has taught me through the years.”

Miller’s guidance and mentorship also extends to Patrick Calhoon, associate attorney at the Law Offices of Craig Miller. “I clerked for Craig through most of law school. He taught me to think like a lawyer and to fight hard. After graduation, I went off to work for other firms but I quickly realized I had worked with the best. Eventually, the opportunity arose to come back and work with Craig, and I jumped at the chance. I learn something new every day. He’s the real deal,” Calhoon says.

In addition to Harvey Levine, Miller also says that his family deserves a great deal of credit for driving him to be the best attorney he can be. Raising his oldest son, Owen, as a single father for five years “made me a better person in every way. In fact, I never did feel quite right until Owen was born. After that I had a place in the world,” he says. Likewise, his youngest son, seven year old Oliver, “is the most competitive little spit fire in the world, and backs down from no one and nothing,” he says proudly. Deserving equal credit, Miller claims, is his wife Melissa. “On our first date, she told me that her role model was Mother Theresa, and being a skeptical lawyer, I didn’t quite believe it. Over the last nine years, she has set me straight. She is the most wonderful mother and stepmother in the world,” he adds.

Miller is enthusiastic about the October 2012 opening of the Law Offices of Craig Miller and what is in store next. “I have a great legal assistant and an ambitious young attorney helping me out,” he says. As far as the future is concerned, Miller says, “I’m looking forward to developing the firm to where we handle great cases for great clients who badly need our specialized service. I am not intent on creating a large firm with a lot of moving parts. My concern is always in providing value.”

Contact:

Craig Miller
225 Broadway, Suite 1310, San Diego, California 92101
cmiller@craigmillerlaw.com | www.craigmillerlaw.com
(619) 231-9449

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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