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Why We Started Our Law Firm Part 1

Posted by Caleb A. Miller | May 11, 2022 | 0 Comments

Where it All Began

I started my legal career at a law firm called Poole Shaffery & Koegle in Santa Clarita, California. The law firm does defense work for corporations, small businesses and insurance companies. I was originally brought in to defend personal injury matters, particularly in the trucking industry. On my first day, like every job we have all had, I did my rounds in the office and met all of the other attorneys and staff members, including our co-founder Mr. Justin Wilmers. After about a month of employment, an associate working in the Employment Law "department" left the firm, and there was an opportunity to take on employment matters that was entirely new to me under the named partner Brian Koegle. I jumped on that opportunity, and it became my primary focus for my entire legal career. Justin was handling personal injury and had a history with Real Estate and Probate Litigation. We both Sprinkled in some Corporate litigation and I had developed an absolute love for the firm, my area of focus, and this profession as a whole. 

Hardest Worker in the Room

Defense firms get paid by billing hours to clients for matters they are working on, phone calls, emails and other engagements. I took pride in spending as much time as possible in the office to get the highest billable hour count and was always neck and neck with Justin. It became a competition within the firm for multiple attorneys to compete with one another, and even the named partner Mr. Koegle would call me at the end of every month to brag about his hours and for good reason. That man poured serious time in, but rarely beat the champs Justin and I, although he found his own ways to win like who brought the most money into the firm that month; Koegle was not accepting a loss for anybody. It became known and the named partner John Shaffery, who has been instrumental in fostering our firm's growth, would even toss hints out at who was in the lead at this unofficial competition. Yes, I realized this game benefitted the firm and it may have been a tactic to keep it going but it was also a great way to get on their good sides which gave us the leeway for the official firm competition we would start later.

A byproduct of this competition was an immense respect for Justin who was not only putting in the time but getting impressive results for his clients and appeared to have a genuine love for the profession. Where I felt I was making an impressive impact in the employment realm, Justin was doing the same thing in his department and I admired his skill and work ethic.

The Miller/Wilmers Olympic Games

At one point I decided to liven up the office a bit by instituting the Olympic games (inspired by Jim Halpert from the Office) and would hold competitions on Fridays with the attorneys and staff such as airplane toss, paper wad baseball and a bunch of others. The rule was everyone can play but attorneys can't win, only the paralegals or secretaries could win and I would buy the winning person a meal of their choice the next week. Don't worry though, attorneys played for bragging rights and brag we did. After the first week, Justin wanted to design games for the office and every other week was either the Miller Olympic Games or the Wilmers Olympic games. We even kept a medal count, had a fake athletic commission (just us making up rules as we go), and invented violations for each other on why we are disqualified such as Red Bull PEDs or injury scandals. If I didn't already love this man enough he immediately offered to start paying for winners' lunches after the first week, something nobody ever asked us to do but over time other attorneys would offer to buy the lunches or would ask to host their own games. It was magical and the professional relationship was blossoming into a real friendship. 

The Seed

 After about a year and some change of working together, Justin began telling me about his desire to own his own law firm. It was a near daily conversation on strategies, start-up costs, effective software, preparation and litigation methods and techniques. It was an obsession of his and I knew he was serious about it. I just didn't know when he thought he would do it.

After some time, he had planted this seed in my head that we were not only good enough to do it, but it was inevitable. We had dates we would go for it and take the leap but we kept pushing it back for a trial, another learning opportunity, more money, and every other excuse, albeit good ones, and delayed starting the firm.

At one point, I got a call from a recruiter hiring at one of the top National Employment law firms in the country to work at a much higher level than I was doing so I made the decision to leave the firm, but the seed had already been planted. 

The Next Firm

After some time at the larger national firm, I realized that seed had sprouted and I became obsessed with this same idea. At this massive corporate law firm, I was watching attorneys struggle to balance their lives with work and relationships. The firm was so impacted that clients would often go weeks without getting a response from an attorney and I realized that as well recognized as the firm is, there was no magic formula to great lawyering. What I wanted to do was create not just the client centric experience that all law firms pretend they have, but to actually do it. To never leave someone who is seeking help unattended for so long and to be an available attorney for people who need me. My time at this firm was eye opening as to the big firm experience because I believed, as most people do, that the bigger the firm is the better the attorneys must be. Not only was it not true, but it seemed they cared significantly less about clients than a smaller firm ever would. It was just a business. 

The attorneys there were doing the same things they were doing at Poole Shaffery and Koegle, making the same arguments and getting similar results. It was then I realized it was time to make this happen. I reached out to Justin and told him it was time to do it. The synergy we had together created a significantly positive experience not just for us, but for the people we were representing. I had to start my own law firm, and I needed Justin to join me because he gifted me this vision and there is no other attorney I trust more.  

The Vision

Our vision was the same, to start a real client focused law firm that took only the cases we believed in and put people before profit. We wanted to use the skills we gathered from defending corporations and insurance companies to fight for the everyday person. We wanted to do what was right, not just what made money. There was fear that in doing so we would destroy our relationships with our former supervisors for leaving their firms but it was in fact the opposite. They not only expressed their belief in our vision, but have offered to help significantly. All three named partners at Poole Shaffery and Koegle offered to help with resources, space, equipment, advice and counsel. Another partner with the firm who had started her own law firm, Ms. Lisa Odom from the Odom law group made a similar offer to help us in every way she can and has been most vital to our growth. 

The Beginning

Although we felt practicing law was an outstanding profession and had a genuine joy in what we were doing; starting Miller Wilmers APC has breathed new life into us, a new motivation, and everything felt powerful. From choosing the logo of the firm, the name itself, the website domain, our software choices and firm relationships was an incredible feeling because now we were doing it on our terms with our own focus. All of that fear of starting a business, which never really leaves, began to weaken as we got calls and clients came in and we realized this is working. Our reputation in the community spoke for itself and it has allowed us to build this dream together. We are making our vision come true and doing what we believe is right for our clients, our families, and our community. 

About the Author

Caleb A. Miller

Caleb A. Miller is a Marine Corps Veteran and founder of Miller Wilmers, APC.


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