The Colorado Lawyer
Vol. 42, No. 8 [Page 13]
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In and Around the Bar
Bar News Highlight
Terry Miller—Striving to Meet Client, Firm, and Family Expectations
by Robin Van Atta
About the Author
Robin Van Atta is Program Coordinator of the CBA’s Access to Justice and Local Bar Relations Department—(303) 824-5310, email@example.com.
Descriptions of Terry Miller of Davis Graham & Stubbs (DGS) include the words "marvelous," "stunning," "smart," "humble," and "model student." These characterizations came about from Miller’s work on Lobato v. State of Colorado, a landmark case centering on public school funding in Colorado that made it all the way to the Colorado Supreme Court. Miller, teamed with three other attorneys—Jennifer Weiser Bezoza, Kathleen Gebhardt, and Marcy Glenn—to take the case on a pro bono basis on the plaintiff’s behalf.
Commitment to Public Service
Miller began performing pro bono service before he joined DGS, and the firm has helped him maintain his commitment to serving the public. DGS offers pro bono hourly credits toward associates’ billable hour totals consistent with Colorado Rule of Professional Conduct 6.1. Though pro bono work is not required at DGS, it is an integral part of the work culture. Miller says it’s not hard to get involved in such work, and that DGS attorneys are encouraged to pursue pro bono work in areas of personal interest.
In addition to performing pro bono service, Miller works with Mile High United Way’s Emerging Leaders Council. The Council comprises a group of young professionals striving to improve the community through volunteer work, advocacy, and the development of community leaders. In the year and a half Miller has been with the Council, he has focused on fundraising efforts by gathering donations for United Way from young professionals. Miller’s goal in targeting young professionals is to garner more interest in serving the needs of the community. Miller also co-chaired a grant proposal review panel at United Way, which made recommendations to the United Way Board regarding each proposal.
Parlaying a Technical Background Into a Legal Career
Miller, a Denver native, received his Bachelor of Science degree in chemical engineering from Colorado State University in 2004. He subsequently went to the University of Oregon School of Law, graduating in 2007 as a member of the Order of the Coif. Miller enjoys working in the city where he grew up, because he feels a strong connection with local clients, particularly the companies he was familiar with before he began practicing law.
During law school, Miller was managing editor on the Oregon Law Review. He also served as an intern with the Colorado Public Defenders Offices in Denver and Fort Collins. Before joining DGS in 2008, Miller served as a law clerk on the Colorado Court of Appeals for the Honorable Alan M. Loeb. (Loeb will become chief judge of the court in January 2014.)
Miller is a member of the trial group at DGS, where he focuses on commercial litigation, natural resources litigation, intellectual property litigation, and construction litigation. Having to regularly transition between practice areas might seem like a challenge, but Miller is able to switch gears without difficulty. When adding new projects or clients to his existing workload, Miller strives to do the best work possible and to create high-quality work product for his clients. This work ethic is what earns Miller the trust of current and future clients and the respect of his colleagues.
When asked how he moved from an engineering focus to law, Miller chuckles. The overlap of the reasoning and logic skills used in both fields made the transition easier, Miller says. He was attracted to the legal issues he encountered while working on engineering projects. Miller also came to realize there was a need for attorneys with a technological background.
Appearing Before the State’s High Court
To argue in front of the Colorado Supreme Court early in one’s legal career is impressive and not all that common. Miller’s opportunity to present arguments to Colorado’s highest court came as a result of his passion for education (his wife is a teacher) and the encouragement to perform pro bono work from DGS. The best part about being in the courtroom, Miller says, is the ability to advocate for parties who would have difficulty representing themselves.
The Lobato case is based on a Colorado constitutional mandate that the state legislature "establish and maintain a thorough and uniform system of free public schools throughout the state."1 This mandate was ruled as enforceable by the Colorado Supreme Court in 2009 and gave Colorado courts the authority to review the state’s school finance system to decide whether it met this constitutional standard.2
The lawsuit, whose lead plaintiff was former Center High School student Taylor Lobato, was filed in 2005 by school districts in the San Luis Valley and a group of parents from around the state.3 Late in the summer of 2011, a five-week trial took place in which Denver District Judge Sheila Rappaport declared that Colorado’s system for funding public schools is "irrational, arbitrary, and severely underfunded," thus violating the Colorado Constitution. This decision favored the plaintiffs, Miller’s clients.
In January 2012, the state filed a notice indicating it would appeal the trial court’s decision to the Colorado Supreme Court.4 At the time of the Colorado Supreme Court hearing in early March 2013, there were twenty-one school districts from across the state listed as plaintiffs in the case.
On May 28, the Colorado Supreme Court announced its decision. The Court held that the current public school financing system is constitutional, and reversed the trial court’s judgment.5 Despite the outcome, Lobato provided Miller an opportunity that will have a lasting impact on his career.
Support From a Team of Mentors
Although Lobato was Miller’s first case before the Colorado Supreme Court, it was not his first appellate argument. He says the experience was like no other he has had, though, because of the extensive preparation that goes with appearing before the Supreme Court. To prepare, Miller participated in several moot court sessions with mentors and other attorneys involved in the case. Working with the Colorado Lawyers Committee before Supreme Court arguments also was helpful in preparing for the case, and support from the Committee was phenomenal, Miller says.
Miller collaborated with several talented lawyers to prepare for different stages of the case, including Andy Low and Kenzo Kawanabe, both partners at DGS. Low, who is chair of the Appellate Section at DGS, worked with Miller on preparing and practicing Supreme Court arguments for the case through moot court sessions.
Before working with Miller on the Lobato case, Low was Miller’s supervising partner during Miller’s first year at DGS. Because of working on this case, Miller’s advocacy in practice has improved by leaps and bounds, Low says. Having previously been Miller’s mentor, Low was akin to the proud teacher watching a student in his element in front of the justices of the Colorado Supreme Court.
Miller also worked with Kenzo Kawanabe during both the trial and appellate portions of the case. Kawanabe is a commercial litigator with DGS, as well as the chair of the Education Taskforce of the Colorado Lawyers Committee. He led the team that successfully won the trial phase of Lobato.
Kawanabe says Miller was invaluable to the Lobato case through his development of trial strategy, pleading drafts, and coordination of more than twenty volunteer attorneys over the trial phase. Kawanabe adds that Miller went from a top lieutenant on the team to arguing the case before the state’s highest Court. Miller possesses a quiet confidence based on sharp intellect, Kawanabe says, as well as a strong work ethic.
Miller is a member of the Education Taskforce of the Colorado Lawyers Committee. Because of his membership on the Education Taskforce, Miller is able to work with a vast network of support on cases like Lobato, which was staffed primarily by volunteers working with the Committee. The Committee volunteers with whom Miller worked on Lobato had nothing but praise regarding Miller’s work.
Marcy Glenn, a partner and Holland & Hart who worked with Miller on Lobato, describes Miller’s preparation on the case as thorough. Miller began his preparations for arguments before the Court before all of the volunteers were even on board to participate on the case. Glenn also characterizes Miller’s work as instinctual and disciplined. He immersed himself in researching the law and the record, as well as developing themes and specific points for presentation during arguments.
When it was time to argue before the Court, Glenn says, Miller was fully prepared to persuasively answer all questions from the Court. Glenn says the team of volunteers couldn’t have been more pleased with Miller’s command of the argument. Without a doubt, this is why Miller was nominated for, and received, the Colorado Lawyers Committee Individual of the Year Award, along with Bezoza, Gebhardt, and Glenn. The team "seamlessly orchestrat[ed] the defense of the school finance appeal."6
The Lobato team, left to right: Marcy Glenn, Kathleen Gebhardt, Terry Miller, and Jennifer Weiser Bezoza.
Making Time for Pro Bono Service
Balancing pro bono work, his full-time job, and a family life is not always easy. First and foremost, Miller says, day-to-day work must meet client and firm expectations. Much of Miller’s pro bono work, especially on the Lobato case, was completed during nights and weekends. Miller’s wife is highly supportive of his work, which makes the balancing act a bit easier when the caseload is heavy.
Miller is convinced that performing pro bono work is a key component of the legal profession. By its nature, the legal system is difficult to navigate, and not everyone can afford to hire a lawyer. Performing pro bono work also can be a great way to foster mentoring relationships between experienced and newer attorneys, he says.
Miller intends to perform pro bono service throughout his legal career. He hopes that his work brings a substantive change to public education and the resources available to school systems, and that he is able to make a difference in people’s lives.
At this early stage in his legal career, Miller certainly appears to be on track to contribute greatly to his profession. The Colorado Bar Association joins in congratulating him on his many accomplishments!
1. Colo. Const. art. IX, § 2.
2. The Lobato Case: The Future for Colorado Students, available at lobatocase.org/about.
3. Rael, "Lobato v. State of Colorado Heard Before State Supreme Court," Huffington Post (March 7, 2013), available at www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/07/lobato-v-state-of-colorado-supreme-court-justice-marquez_n_2829773.html.
4. Children’s Voices, Lobato v. State of Colorado Case Description, available at childrens-voices.org/lobato-v-state-of-colorado/case-description.
5. State v. Lobato, 2013 CO 30, No. 12SA25 (May 28, 2013).
6. Colorado Lawyers Committee, 35th Anniversary Awards Luncheon, available at www.coloradolawyerscommittee.org/35th-anniversary-awards-luncheon.
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