In 26 years of practice, Christine F. Miller has subscribed to two keys of courtroom success: Have a sense of what a jury wants to hear – and be prepared.
The Husch Blackwell Sanders partner and litigation division chairwoman says while being savvy about citizen temperaments and never holding a death grip on “a textbook defense” are important, preparation lays the bedrock for successful verdicts.
“You have to know everything and be prepared for everything,” Miller says. “You can’t expect that something won’t come up.”
She laughs remembering her very first trial.
“I was so overprepared for it, it was unbelievable.”
Looking at Miller’s track record, though, it’s difficult to find anything funny about her tenacious approach.
For starters, she wins. A lot.
There was the time she represented the Fortune 1000 ammunition manufacturer Olin Corp. against claims from 17 employees that they were chosen for layoff in a reduction in force because of their age. Miller argued the decisions were based on skills, and she won. The case was named one of the year’s top-10 defense verdicts by the National Law Journal.
On another case – this one involving claims for religious harassment and retaliation – the trial judge personally called Husch Blackwell Sanders co-chairman Joe Conran after Miller won to tell him she was one of the finest trial attorneys he’d ever seen in action in his court.
Given these cases and others like them, some might be surprised Miller first considered marketing and then business school before zeroing in on law. An impressive LSAT score and the potential of always dealing with a new case or matter ultimately tipped the scale.
“I was looking for a career where I wasn’t easily bored,” she says.
During a summer clerkship at then-Husch & Eppenberger following her second year of law school at St. Louis University, she found it.
“I liked the ways the lawyers maneuvered and positioned themselves at trial,” she says.
Miller has spent significantly less time practicing law since becoming chair of the 300-person-plus litigation division in January 2008, but the position allows her to focus on other issues close to her heart.
As a young attorney, Miller gained momentum at the firm while raising her twins as a single mom. While she didn’t feel it was financially feasible then for her to practice part time, today she champions the option for others.
“Chris is a role model for both women and men in the firm who are juggling the law and family,” says JoAnn Sandifer, a partner at the firm and one of Miller’s best friends.
Miller also encourages women to support each other in the workplace.
“Some women are very focused on giving work to women attorneys, but some aren’t,” she says. “Some think, ‘Men have more power, and they can do more for me.’ There are barriers that need to be broken through.”
If leading by example is the most effective way of enacting change, then Miller has taken a hammer to the glass ceiling.