For many Big Law lawyers, balancing work and life can be hard enough. But for Jesse Miller, equity partner at Reed Smith, that’s just one piece of the equation. Miller, who has served as a reservist and Army National guardsman for over 25 years, was just selected by the California Army National Guard for Brigade Command of the 115th Regional Support Group, where he’ll be a Colonel in charge of over 1,000 troops.
“I find it inspiring and intellectually stimulating to do a different job as part of my community service,” Miller told Big Law Business. “There’s a physicality and an intensity to it.”
For Miller, who says he loves being in the Army as much as he loves being a lawyer, the balancing act is all a matter of communication.
“I’m pretty disciplined in terms of managing my schedule and my legal docket, my military docket, and my family docket,” he said. “The biggest thing is clearly communicating with my colleagues and my clients and the military, and planning ahead.” Being a lawyer does give him some amount of flexibility, Miller said, since he’s not expected to clock in or out at set hours like someone in manufacturing might be.
For many soldiers in the National Guard or Army Reserves, the time commitment is limited to once-a-month weekend drills and once-a-year extended trainings. But for high-ranking officers like Miller, it’s a daily gig.
“When I was in command of the 1-18th Cavalry Squadron, I was commanding every day,” he said of his last command post, which he held from 2012 to 2014, during which time he maintained his practice as a San Francisco-based commercial litigator at Reed Smith.
“Some days that’s 30 minutes, some days that’s four hours, five to seven days a week.” In his new role, he will be running a regional command headquarters that, in peacetime, is responsible for coordinating efforts of disaster response units and, in wartime, is responsible for marshaling forward deployed Army units. He expects that to be just as demanding, although he will have a bigger team.
According to a search on Bloomberg Law, Miller is representing clients such as the County of Los Angeles, Wesco Insurance Company, and San Bernardino governments in various disputes. He has also represented soldiers pro bono, including an Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran who struggled to receive a military disability pension after being shot by a sniper in Baghdad. Miller was recognized for those efforts in 2010 with a Jefferson Award.
The workload is nothing new. Throughout his career, Miller has always been a lawyer and a soldier. He enlisted in the Army in 1991 while enrolled at Bates College, and he became an officer in 1995 while completing his law degree at The George Washington University. The New England native then moved out to California, first to work in the San Francisco District Attorney’s office, and then to work in private practice. He joined Reed Smith in 2005 after five years at Seyfarth Shaw.
He said his clients, his colleagues, and judges have been understanding and accommodating when it comes to his military obligations.
When he deployed to New Orleans as part of the relief effort following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, he had to pick up and leave within 48 hours. “But we weathered it,” he said. “Once folks understood what was going on down there, everybody’s reaction was, ‘Of course, that’s where you need to be. We can deal with the court hearings later.’”
“I can think of one judge in 20 years of legal practice who was not super understanding,” he added, though he declined to share who.
Outside of that, Miller said he’s gotten very lucky with the timing of his cases. Right before a year-long deployment to Kosovo in 2009, he was able to settle one of his big cases. Another case came back down on appeal right as he returned.
When he’s not litigating cases for clients, Miller works as the partner liaison for Reed Smith’s Veterans Affinity Group and continues to run a pro bono practice representing veterans and soldiers in need.
Besides the pride he takes in his military service, Miller said there are some other perks to his dual life: “Serving in the military in austere field environments is a good reminder of how good life is as a lawyer,” he said with a laugh.
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