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April 23, 2013

Terry Miller ’07 Defends Colorado’s Public Interest

In 2008, Oregon Law graduate Terry Miller '07, along with members of Denver, Colo.’s top law firms, began to work on a landmark pro bono case. Several Colorado school districts had finally received approval from the Colorado Supreme Court to take up their lawsuit against the state, which they claimed had failed to provide adequate funding to all of its schools as mandated by the state’s constitution. The case, Lobato v. State, would be going up to bat in 2011.

Miller, now a fifth-year associate at Davis Graham & Stubbs LLP, embraced this opportunity to pursue public interest work, and with his help the team won the five-week trial on behalf of the plaintiffs. When the state appealed the decision to the Colorado Supreme Court, Miller was approached by Marcy Glenn, a partner at Denver-based law firm Holland and Hart, LLP to defend the trial court’s decision at oral argument.

To prepare for presenting the case, Miller participated in three rounds of moot court trials. One of the panelists judging the trials was a top Colorado appellate attorney, who also was his mentor and supervisor at Davis Graham & Stubbs LLP. Miller was nervous to perform in front of such a well-respected attorney, but thought if he could survive that court session, performing at the state supreme court would be easy. Because arguing at the state's highest court in such a high profile case was a relatively new experience to him, he had no idea what to expect, and by extension, what to anticipate or worry about.

“It was so out of the ordinary,” said Miller. “I had nothing to compare it to.”

In March 2013, Miller represented the districts, arguing that the state was obligated to fund schools so students could meet the standards set by the state. While the court’s decision is expected in early fall, working on the Lobato case has been a game-changer in Miller’s career.

The Lobato case has reverberated through the U.S. legal community. If the Colorado Supreme Court upholds the trial court’s decision, the outcome of the case will have a historic impact on similar cases throughout the country.

In the legal world, much like in other professions, there exists a “catch-22”: one needs experience in order to gain experience to become experienced. Lobato gave Miller an opportunity that has opened new doors for him at his firm and the larger legal community.

“[Lobato v. State] was a catalyst to get past that initial barrier, and as a result of that I’ve had phenomenal experiences,” said Miller.

In 2011, Miller was recognized by Law Week Colorado as an “Up and Coming Lawyer.” The following year the Colorado Lawyer’s Committee named the team that worked on the Lobato v. State appeals hearing, of which Miller was a member, as Team Of The Year. The committee also listed Davis Graham & Stubbs LLP as Firm Of The Year for its pro bono contributions. Most recently, Miller was honored by Super Lawyers magazine as a "Rising Star," and received the 2013 CEA Coloradan Award from the Colorado Education Association in recognition of the legal services he provided in support of education during the Lobato v. State appeal. He has also been nominated for the Colorado Lawyers Committee Individual Of The Year Award.

At his firm, Miller's practice emphasizes commercial litigation. He has represented clients in oil and gas lease disputes, class action and shareholder derivative matters, arbitrations, intellectually property disputes and professional liability disputes. As a member of the firm’s Trial Group, he has argued commercial and criminal matters before Colorado and federal appellate courts. Outside of his firm, he serves on the Education Task Force of the Colorado Lawyers Committee and the Mile High United Way Emerging Leaders Council Steering Committee.

Miller earned his B.S. in Chemical Engineering from Colorado State University in 2004. When he made the decision to attend law school, it was Oregon Law’s pro bono tradition and culture that drew him to apply.

Miller was also a runner with an interest in outdoor activities, and TrackTown, U.S.A, seemed like a good fit for his lifestyle. Moreover, Oregon was home to several personalities that Miller respected, author Ken Kesey and Oregon Track Coach Bill Bowerman being two such heroes. Oregon Law was a perfect match.

At law school, Miller became Managing Editor of The Oregon Law Review, Oregon Law’s student-run law journal. He also competed in a trial moot court competition in San Francisco. During this time he acquired professional experience interning with the Colorado Public Defender in Fort Collins and Denver.

Miller cites Assistant Dean Rebekah Hanley, and professors John Bonine, and Margaret Paris as his professional influences. In particular, Miller found inspiration in Professor Bonine’s energy and belief that the courts have a role in protecting the public interest.

“He (Bonine) was great for teaching you to think and work like a lawyer,” Miller said.

In 2007, Miller graduated in the top 10 percent of his class from Oregon Law and was inducted into the Order of the Coif. He subsequently began clerking for the Honorable Alan M. Loeb of the Colorado Court of Appeals. In 2008 he made the transition from public service to Davis Graham & Stubbs LLP, which was located in his hometown of Denver. The firm’s significant commitment to pro bono work allowed Miller to blend his interests in commercial litigation with public interest matters.

To those students who don’t want to enter private practice at the expense of public service or public interest work, Miller affirms that lawyers can have it all. In Miller’s time at Davis Graham & Stubbs LLP he’s defended students’ constitutional right to an adequate education, sought permanent injunctive relief from misappropriation of trade secrets, represented defendants in numerous class action lawsuits pending in federal and state trial and appellate courts and argued appeals on behalf of indigent prisoners as a member of the Tenth Circuit’s Criminal Justice Act Panel. He advises students looking to walk that balance to attend seminars, participate fully in skills courses and most importantly, earn the trust of their colleagues.

Finally, Miller recommends that students search for firms that have a track record of completing pro bono and public interest work.

“There are a lot of private practices out there that encourage and enable this kind of work,” said Miller. “If you want to go private practice, you shouldn’t give up on public service.”

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