By Skylar Dubelko/Daily Journal Staff Writer, Thursday, August 10, 2017 –
At Los Angeles litigation boutique Miller Barondess LLP, younger partners are trying cases and winning.
“Lawyers here get a higher level of legal experience at a younger age and that allows them to excel and grow their skills and career much faster,” said partner Dan Miller.
One of the firm’s younger partners, Amnon Z. Siegel, recently obtained a $256.45 million jury verdict against Nissan Motor Acceptance Corp. on behalf of an auto dealer.
“How many attorneys get a chance to try a case worth a quarter of a billion dollars while in their 30s?” Siegel asked.
Miller Barondess was established in 2006 by Louis R. “Skip” Miller with his two sons and partners, Jim and Dan Miller, and Alexander “Sasha” Frid, who went to law school with Dan.
“The idea was to create a very high end litigation boutique that does litigation in a variety of different fields, where we would hire attorneys from top law schools… who has also been trained at the best big firms,” Jim Miller said.
Siegel, who came from Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, said, “All of the attorneys here originally started their careers at big firms because, when you go to law school, that’s what you’re told to do to build your resume – start at a big firm.”
“Back when Skip interviewed me …I remember telling him that I loved Gibson Dunn,” Siegel said, “but I wasn’t sure it was the best path to become a trial lawyer and be in the courtroom. I wanted to talk to the judge and juries. I thought I’d have a better chance doing that at Miller Barondess and I was right.”
“Now I pinch myself and know the future is wide open,” he added.
According to Dan Miller, “By the start of 2007, we had 12 lawyers. By 2012, we were at 20 lawyers and we are now approaching 30.”
The firm’s decision not to hire lateral partners or acquire other practice areas was a conscious one, he said. “We did it to preserve the culture. We also did it to maintain high quality control and ensure that we are able to train our lawyers in the right way.”
All of Miller Barondess’ partners joined as associates from big firms and were trained by Skip Miller, with the exception of James Goldman.
Dan Miller said partnership at the firm is merit-based and, “Once associates are operating at the partner level and handling partner responsibilities, they make partner.”
Three of the firm’s partners have been named on the Daily Journal’s list of Top 20 under 40 lawyers, which Dan said is “a reflection of how our firm model is working.”
Instead of staffing 10 to 20 attorneys on a case, which is standard at bigger firms, Miller Barondess only staffs a few. In his recent case against Nissan, Siegel said that the opposing party had five to seven attorneys in the courtroom during the trial, whereas Miller Barondess had two.
“The lean staffing of our cases saves our clients money and results in effective and efficient management of cases,” Dan Miller said. “We don’t have 10 lawyers on a call all billing for the same meeting …That allows our attorneys to grow their legal skills exponentially faster than they would have been able to do at a big firm.”
Siegel said he doesn’t “think the jury should be distracted by how many attorneys are sitting at one table or the other.”
If an attorney knows what happened and can explain it to the jury in a genuine way, it doesn’t matter how capable or experienced the opposing counsel is, he said.
His opposing counsel in Nissan was Severson & Werson’s chairman, Mark J. Kenney, who graduated from law school the year Siegel was born.
“I went into trial prepared for any situation,” Siegel said. “That’s what we do at our firm.” He said the partners lean on each other when they face complex issues.
“During the trial, I called my partners regularly when a topic arose that I knew that one of my partners was particularly good at or had a lot of experience in,” Siegel said.
“I would find useful nuggets from their guidance and used that guidance to help us win the case.”
Nissan Motor Acceptance Corp. v. Superior Auto of Fremont LLC et al., 30-2009-00305125 (Orange Super. Ct., filed May 15, 2012).
Miller Barondess takes a team approach to all of its cases, and Dan Miller said the strength of the partnership is a main reason for the firm’s growth.
One of the partners, J. Mira Hashmall “is a certified appellate specialist and we often seek her advice throughout all phases of litigation, from pre-trial analysis all the way through trial prep,” he said.
“Her guidance allows us to prepare the case in a way to best position our case if or when an appeal arises,” he added.
“There are great appellate firms in LA, but most do only appellate,” said Hashmall. “By doing both at Miller Barondess, the efficiency for the client is maximized. We know the trial expertise and can use that intelligence and background to run right into the next phase, which saves the client a ton of money.”
In fact, Hashmall was integral in Siegel’s success against Nissan.
“The trial judge on the first part of the case threw out our claims and the jury only got part of the story. I handled the appeal and all claims got remanded for a new trial,” said Hashmall.
A big-firm clientele and a small-firm environment attract top talent, the partners maintain. “Some of my closest friends have become clients and some of my clients have become my closest friends,” said Jim Miller. “We really are in the trenches with them. It’s a ‘we’ approach at our firm. ‘We’ want this result.”