Making Incremental Change
As both a lawyer and a generous donor to ILR, James E Miller ’88 understands that small gestures can go a long way.
As the managing partner of Miller Shah LLP, he routinely fights for those who have been wronged through class action suits, Employee Retirement Income Security Act cases and by litigating some of the biggest whistleblower cases in the country. He has also provided numerous internship opportunities and scholarships for his fellow ILRies.
In one of his most recent high-profile cases, Miller won a $678 million settlement for the United States government against Swiss drug maker Novartis, and was named the 2020 Lawyer of the Year by the Taxpayers Against Fraud Education Fund.
“As part of that settlement, Novartis agreed to stop doing in-person ‘speaker programs,’ which were largely shams where they paid doctors exorbitant fees when really what they were paying them for was to prescribe their drugs,” Miller said. “So, it is sort of a groundbreaking settlement by the United States in terms of changing the way that pharmaceutical marketing is happening. But still, we’re always fighting an uphill battle. It seems like they're always one step ahead.”
“But, it's all about making incremental change”
For his fellow ILRies, Miller began making incremental change in 2012. Since that time, Miller Shah has been a sponsoring firm in the ILR School’s Credit Internship Program, and employs three to four ILR students each semester and over the summer to work closely on the firm’s labor and employment practices.
For some interns, the credit internship is just the beginning.
“We have credit interns and, in many cases, we ask them to come back as project analysts for a year or two after graduating,” Miller said. “And then, if we're happy with them and they're happy with us, we help to pay for their law school with the agreement that they'll come back to work for us as attorneys.”
Alec Berin ’15, one of the first to take advantage of the arrangement, credits the internship program, and Miller specifically, for setting him on his current career path as an associate at Miller Shah.
“Jim endeavors to ensure that the credit interns get an experience that is going to reveal to them what the job is like,” Berin said. “It's really meaningful work and I felt really well equipped when I went to law school to get the most out of it.”
“Not only does it [the financial assistance] make a difference in our ability to go to law school, it really changes the dynamic about where we can go to law school,” he said. “I was somebody who was mindful that the sticker price at a law school was going to be a hard thing to justify. But this changed the possibilities for me. And, also, by having the relationship with the firm, I was able to choose a school that was a really great fit for me, without having to think quite as much about what the school was going to be able to do for me in the way of post-graduation opportunities.”
The internship opportunities aren’t limited to his firm, however, as Miller has also made a gift to ILR to support the Credit Internship Program and the labor movement by funding the Miller Shah Credit Internship Award. The scholarship pays one student each semester for a credit internship with a union or labor organization as if the student were interning for his law firm.
“When speaking to Brigid Beachler [managing director, Office of Off-Campus Credit Programs], I learned that fewer students were doing internships for unions because there weren't as many paid opportunities,” Miller said. “We just felt like it would be valuable to support the initiative. It is the ILR School, so from our perspective, we'd like to see more credit interns working for unions. So, to the extent that we can help a little to make that possible for one student per semester, we thought it would be a worthwhile thing to do.”
Miller, whose parents and grandparents were active in construction, trade and teachers’ unions, had an internship with a labor union, the Doctor’s Council in New York, during his time at ILR. He credits that experience with helping him decide to become a lawyer.
“I saw that the union lawyers were doing a lot of interesting stuff,” Miller said. “It seemed like every time something got fairly complex, or the conflict was joined in a significant way, the lawyers got involved and took on greater responsibilities and did what I perceived as the more interesting work.”
In addition to his and his firm’s credit internship gifts, Miller endowed the Professor George Brooks Memorial Scholarship and funded a Cornell Promise Scholarship.
Professor Brooks joined the ILR staff in 1961 and was still teaching in his late 70s when Miller was attending ILR.
“He was a great guy and served as my internship adviser,” Miller said. “He was a union democracy person, and he was at the ILR School for a long time. He was just one of my favorite professors. He was a man who was very passionate about his beliefs, and he also had a joy for life that was amazing.”
In choosing a name for the Cornell Promise Scholarship, Miller decided to honor Kate Mullany, one of the first woman labor leaders, who organized the all-women Collar Laundry Union in 1864 in Troy, New York.
“I don’t have any connection to Kate Mullany,” Miller said, “but there wasn’t a scholarship named for her and I just thought we should do that so then at least, whoever became the Kate Mullany scholarship winner, that person would at least know and appreciate who Kate Mullany was and how important her role was in the early labor movement.”
For Miller, giving back to ILR financially has been an easy decision – but he’s given back in another way by encouraging both of his children, Christopher ’19 and Anjali ’21, to become ILRies.
“I thought the professors were amazing, and I really enjoyed the curriculum,” he said. “And, I actually think that the curriculum is even more interesting now than it was when I attended. Having seen the flexibility that my kids had, in terms of building out minors, I just think it's an amazing school.”
Miller’s many gifts to ILR are not surprising to those who know him, including Berin, who claims he “is pretty much the best lawyer I know, but he's an even better person.”
“Jim is an example of somebody who has really reached the highest echelon of law practice, but remains so gracious and unselfish about that,” Berin said. “And, I think more than anyone I've ever seen, he leverages his own success for the benefit of all of us at the firm and everybody at ILR.”