Jennifer Millier

Jennifer Millier has had a busy year.

Six months after the attorney started her own law firm last April, she became president of the fast-growing Santa Monica Bar Association (SMBA). She put in long hours defending companies against lawsuits while organizing networking nights and pro bono workshops. On Millier Law’s first anniversary earlier this month, she worked late and took herself out to dinner at 9 p.m.

Even with a busy schedule, she said, she feels free. The transition from a large, prestigious law firm to her own practice may be challenging, but Millier said it offers more time to focus and strategize on each case, form deeper relationships with her clients and take on more rewarding work. She also has bragging rights as one of the roughly 300 women-owned law firms in the United States.

“I’m celebrating later this month,” she said with a laugh.

Millier graduated from UCLA and attended UC Hastings College of the Law, starting her career at a small law firm in Sonoma County before moving to a large firm in San Francisco. She came to Santa Monica in 2012 to practice business litigation at a small firm in Marina del Rey and got involved in SMBA a few years later.

She enjoyed her work, but she began dedicating more time to revitalizing SMBA, helping quadruple its size by organizing popular networking nights and classes. When her firm made her partner, she started to question whether she would be truly happy at a law firm for the rest of her career.

“I wanted to create something I could see myself building and enjoying for the long term,” she said. “I realized the traditional law firm model wasn’t really what I wanted to be doing for the next 30 years. I knew I wanted something different.”

So she decided to start her own practice on her own terms. For the first time, Millier was able to make decisions about sustainability, steering clear of the paper documents most law firms rely on, and her working hours, which gave her the flexibility to take on greater responsibility at the bar association. Instead of concentrating on billable hours, she could connect on a deeper level with her clients and think longer and harder on cases.

It’s more satisfying to win a case, she said. A few months ago, she was approached by a small company who had already hired two attorneys to settle a trademark infringement case. Millier took on the case and resolved it within a month.

“The gratitude that clients express when you’ve helped solve a problem they thought couldn’t be solved is a great feeling,” she said.

But it wasn’t always clear that independence would lead to success, Millier said.

“In law school, you’re told you have to get the summer internship with the big firm and follow a set path from there to be a successful lawyer, and the truth is that success looks different for different people,” she said.

After a year on her own, Millier said she plans to start hiring attorneys and eventually wants to build a team of four to six. She will also serve as president of SMBA through October. Millier sees both roles as a chance to mentor young attorneys, she said.

“When I was starting out, there were a couple of attorneys who informally mentored me and it was very helpful to talk with others who had been where I was,” she said. “Now that I own my own firm, I want to show young attorneys that it’s possible to be successful without following a traditional path.”

madeleine@smdp.com

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