The Perfect Lawyer — Herbert J. “Jack” Miller, 1924-2009

Herbert J. “Jack” Miller, the founder of my old firm (the much mourned Miller Cassidy Larroca & Lewin) died Saturday. He was 85.

Jack had a career full of highlights any one of which would have been the capstone to a successful lawyer’s career: service as a Republican as head of the Criminal Division under RFK; representing Teddy Kennedy; winning Richard Nixon’s pardon; getting a sentence of probation for Michael Deaver. He was a great mentor, boss, and friend, whom Washingtonian magazine aptly called “the perfect lawyer,” and whom the the D.C. Bar honored as a “Legend in the Law.”

Jack was the original “outside-the-box” thinker. He successfully moved for the dismissal of a case based on the prosecutor’s opening statement. He scuttled charges that a witness had lied to a congressional committee because the relevant statute then required a showing of a quorum, and Jack was able to raise doubts that a quorum had been present at the time. The dismissal of a criminal case “on a technicality” always invites scorn, at least outside the universe of the white collar criminal defense bar and those who have been indicted (two groups which, if present trends continue, together will one day constitute 100% of the Earth’s population). But Jack took particular delight in killing a prosecution in this way. As he was fond of saying, “Any fool can get to the merits.” (He also was fond of delays in criminal cases. As he said, “If you don’t go to trial, you can’t go to prison.”)

In a town full of sharp elbows and tongues, he was unrelentingly cheerful, kind, and civil. He had one known fault, which was a love of puns. Let us never speak of that again.

In addition to being a consummate lawyer, he had a variety of outside interests, frequently involving physical labor, even when he was well into his 70s. He loved chopping wood, raising hay (which his associates and partners were sometimes pressed into service baling, miraculously without the recorded loss of any digits), his Corvette (375 horsepower at age 76, which must be some sort of record), and, of course, malted beverages, usually Miller Lite. Only the insiders know the story of the P.O.M. button, and we’ll keep it that way. Jack also maintained a small refrigerator in his office that he kept stocked for those in need of refreshment. Readers of my first two “What Were They Thinking” pieces for the Green Bag in October Term 1999 and 2000–both of you–will be unsurprised to learn that Jack’s fridge played a prominent part in their creation.

Jack had precisely the right attitude about the practice of law. He frequently told associate candidates, “I can’t promise you that you’ll make a lot of money. But we’ll have fun.” He had a great eye for legal talent, as demonstrated by the roster of distinguished MCLL alumni to whom he gave that speech.

The few photos of Jack on the web date back to his days in the Justice Department, but the man is unmistakeable even behind the horn-rims.

Jack at the witness table:
Jack at witness table

Justice Tom Clark swearing in his son Ramsey and Jack, together with an unidentified onlooker.
Justice Tom Clark swearing in son Ramsey, Jack, and unidentified onlooker

We will not see his like again.