Celebrating Women’s History Month with Retta Miller

March 26, 2024 | Podcasts

In celebration of Women’s History Month, Dallas attorney Retta Miller joins the Fast Takes podcast to share her life story and how those experiences have shaped her at Jackson Walker.

Featured This Episode

Our Host:

Courtney WhiteCourtney White
Research Attorney, Dallas & Houston
Follow on LinkedIn »
Instagram: @courthousecouture

Episode Guest:

Retta Miller
Partner, Dallas
Trial & Appellate Litigation
Follow on LinkedIn »

Episode Transcription

Courtney White: Hi, everyone. I am Courtney White, and this is Jackson Walker Fast Takes. March is designated as Women’s History Month. Here at Jackson Walker, we want to use this time to celebrate our women attorneys and business professionals who lead and shape our firm into what it is today. I asked Retta Miller, Litigation Partner in our Dallas office, to share how her experiences have shaped her practice here at Jackson Walker. Retta, welcome to the podcast.

Retta Miller: Thank you, Courtney. I’m happy to be here.

Courtney White: Retta, I would love to hear more about your journey as an attorney.

Retta Miller: Well, thank you, I appreciate that. I grew up on a farm in northwest Oklahoma and learned hard work from an early age, whether it was driving a tractor or preparing meals for the harvest crew. My parents were really involved in the community and taught us to give back as well as to look out for and to learn things ourselves. So it’s always encouraged excel at everything I did at a young age. I followed my parents to Oklahoma State University, where I majored in Home Economics as it was then known. And as you can imagine, over the years, I’ve had 1000 questions about how did somebody with a Home Economics degree become a lawyer?

Courtney White: Well Retta, that was going to be one of my questions. That is fascinating. I didn’t even realize that was a major possibility.

Retta Miller: Well, not so much today. But when I was in college, it was and I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. But I will say that the teaching skills and the organization skills that I learned in my undergraduate degree really benefited me when it came to telling stories, communicating with juries, and preparing cases for trial. So although it is kind of an unusual undergraduate degree, it certainly was helpful to me and in my career as a trial lawyer in that regard.

When I graduated from college, I went to work for the 4-H program in Oklahoma, which is a part of Oklahoma State University. I had been active in 4-H as a youth and much of my college career was paid for by scholarships that I earned through various 4-H activities. And so I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do. So I thought, Okay, I’ll go to work for the 4-H program. I’ll work a couple of years, I’ll give back to a program that helped me develop leadership skills and help pay my way to college on two years, turned into four years turned into six years, and after seven years, I thought, you know, I really need to think about what do I want to do long term. So on a lark, I took an aptitude test, and the aptitude tests that I should either be in marketing, or I should go to law school. And at the time, I was the executive director of the Oklahoma 4-H Foundation. So in essence, I was doing fundraising and marketing. And I knew I didn’t want to do that my entire career. So it really kind of reinforced, maybe you should go back and look at and think about going to law school. So that was what I ended up doing.

I went to Northwestern University to law school. And while I was at Northwestern, I was involved in the clinic, I was involved in the trial ad program, I was on the Northwestern Moot Court team. So I really determined that what I really wanted to do was to be a trial lawyer. So by time I clerked in the summer at Jackson Walker after my second year, I was really focused in all in on being a trial lawyer. I only worked in the trial section as a summer associate, came back to Jackson Walker after law school and in what they call a lifer and I’ve been at the firm my entire legal career. Which is pretty rare these days. But there are many folks at Jackson Walker who have spent their entire legal careers here.

Courtney White: That is rare. But I think when you have a firm like Jackson Walker, it’s hard for people to leave.

Retta Miller: Well, and I trust Jackson Walker because it had fabulous reputation as a trial firm. And because I had been out for a number of years before I went back to law school, I really wanted a firm where I could jump in and start doing things immediately. And they had indicated that that would be the case. And that turned out to be the case. In my first year as an associate. I both argued in front of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals and tried my first jury trial.

Courtney White: That is amazing, Retta. That is experience that honestly, is career changing.

Retta Miller: Right. It affirmed reaffirmed what I had made the right decision reaffirm that was what I wanted to do and that kind of thing. You know, I always tell recruits that practicing law is really hard, and you do not want to be practicing law with jerks. You want to like the people that you practice law with because you need them you need to be able to collaborate with them. You need to be able to work together as teams. To me that was one of the things that made Jackson Walker a great firm to come to and to stay with, is I always felt like I liked and trusted the people that I practice law with, when you go to trial with a team for 10 weeks or two months, you really get to know one another. When you’re in the trenches like that.

When I started, there were very few women trial lawyers still. It was back in the day when you would walk into a deposition and people would say, “are you the court reporter?” But I was really lucky at Jackson Walker in that the senior male trial lawyers were fabulous mentors for me. They all gave me great opportunities. They all trusted me, believed in me, taught me how to be a trial lawyer. And one of my favorite stories is that, I was working on a case with one of the senior partners and it was a wrongful death case. And it was the first and only wrongful death case I ever tried. I had worked it up, I had done all the depositions, I had done all the prep, and kind of at the last minute, the client said to the senior partner, I want you to try it. And he said to them, no, she’s going to try it. She’s perfectly prepared, I will be there. But she’s going to try the case. And he was there every step of the way, knew exactly when to step in, and to help and when to sit back and let me do it on our own. And it was just a fabulous learning experience.

Courtney White: It sounds like it.

Retta Miller: And it stuck with me in terms of how I’ve tried to mentor young lawyers is to remember how I was mentored. And it’s hard. I mean, I realized, as I grew more experienced, and had younger lawyers working for me, it’s hard to step back and let them do something because they might do it a little differently than you do it. But that’s how they learn.

I learned from the people who mentored me and have tried to apply those same techniques and mentoring younger lawyers, particularly women, because I remember when there weren’t women mentors for me and want to be sure that there are women mentors for our young lawyers. During my career at Jackson Walker, I’ve been fortunate I served as the head of the trial section. And one of the things that I did while I was head of the trial section is we implemented an extensive training program and mentoring program for folks to the trial section. Much of which has now been adopted by the firm. But we really were kind of the first step in being sure that we were getting young lawyers the right training, being sure they had mentors, being sure that we developed lawyers. And a lot of that came from the fact that I felt so fortunate to have senior lawyers who mentored me when I was a young lawyer.

And then when I served on the Management Committee, the firm was beginning to focus on things such as, how do we keep women in the firm? How do we get them to partnership, and to begin to focus on issues like maternity leave, and part time work in those kinds of things. It was important to me to be sure that we did as much as we could to be sure that there were women lawyers and their women lawyers who stayed and became partners and who became successful in the firm. And that was a real goal for me.

Courtney White: And that’s still a huge discussion at many law firms across the country.

Retta Miller: Right. And we’re not there yet. But it’s constant to ensure that we get to a point where we’re fully supporting women in the firm, so they can develop to their fullest potential. I was fortunate during my career, I have been fortunate during my career to develop a nice book of business. And one of the things I learned from that was that what clients want most, is for you to be responsive, And to feel like it’s a partnership. There are hundreds of good lawyers who could handle any case that they might choose me to handle, but they choose me to handle it because they trust me, and because they feel like it’s a partnership, and that we’re working together. Many of my clients have become good friends. And my book of business has been built through referrals, you do a good job for one client, they refer you to somebody else, they refer you to somebody else, they refer you on, and before you know it, you’ve got a book of business that came because you did a good job and worked as a partner with your clients. And so I’ve always felt that that was one of the most important things in building a book of business.

And in that regard, I build not only a book of business in the financial services industry, but also with women-owned businesses, with women that I got to know through organizations. And it’s really fun to help them work from inception to selling their business successfully, to take them through that process. And those clients, we always say, they don’t want me to do their work, because that means they’re in litigation. They just want me to be the person who manages their work, and gets a corporate lawyer, an employment lawyer, an IP lawyer to handle their work. But those clients have become some of my very closest friends over the years.

You know, I guess in summary, I’m proud of the work that I’ve done for clients. Hopefully I feel like I’ve made the firm a better place during my career here particularly for women. And that’s a product of trying to give back to a firm has given me a lot over my career

Courtney White: Retta, you most certainly have been an asset to Jackson Walker and we’re so thankful that you came to share your story with us during Women’s History Month.

Retta Miller: You will thank you, Courtney. It’s been a pleasure.

Courtney White: And for more information and additional JW fast take podcasts and webinars, please visit JW.com/Fast.

Follow Jackson Walker LLP on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

The music is by Eve Searls.

The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of the firm, its clients, or any of its or their respective affiliates. This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.

Meet Retta

Retta A. Miller has more than 30 years of experience representing clients in civil litigation, arbitration, and appeals. She has extensive trial experience, having served as lead counsel in over 30 trials and arbitrations that were tried to conclusion. Retta previously chaired the Jackson Walker litigation section, which includes approximately 150 lawyers, and serves on the Firm’s Management Committee.