In many ways, Merwyn Miller ’74 didn’t find his calling—his calling found him!
Graduating from UCLA as a psychology major, Miller soon realized that a career in psychological counseling was not for him. A vocational interest test pointed him toward a career in law. Following feedback from several long-time friends attending California Western, he decided to apply and interviewed at the Point Loma Campus.
Even after he was accepted into California Western, he always thought his move south would be temporary. Not so!
“My wife and I had thought we would move to San Diego for maybe a year and then transfer back to the L.A. area where we both grew up,” recalls Miller. “After about six months, we never wanted to go back, and coming down here to Cal Western is one of the best things we ever did.”
Forty-five years later, Miller is still here running an active law office in Encinitas, located in north San Diego County.
“I still love what I do, the people I get to work with, and the feeling of self-worth I get from the help and expertise I can bring to the table.”
At Cal Western, Miller says that the courses, faculty, and class assignments played a big part in making him practice-ready and, together with a supervised internship, which was very new at the time, gave him valuable practical experience.
“To give an example,” says Miller. “I took a bankruptcy course in my third year, and that prepared me to do consumer bankruptcies right out of the box.”
Two faculty members who had a significant influence on Miller were Professors George Gafford and Murray Gallinson.
“Those professors not only gave me badly needed experience, but they were easy to communicate with,” says Miller.
After law school, shunning the more traditional areas of practice—criminal defense, bankruptcy, and civil litigation—Miller opted for estate planning, later adding elder law to his practice mix.
“My only goals were to help people, make a reasonably comfortable living, have time to spend with my family, and not kill myself in the process,” admits Miller.
To distinguish himself from others in the estate planning field, Miller completed the Certified Financial Planner course of study and after that, the MS in Financial Services with an emphasis on estate planning from the College for Financial Planning.
“That course of study opened my eyes to how estate planning should be practiced and enabled me to understand how clients' financial advisors and products fit into the big picture,” says Miller.
A published author, Miller loves writing. When a sales rep from a local newspaper tried to sell him some advertising, serendipity once again stepped in as he offered to trade. The publication agreed, and unexpectedly this led to Miller becoming a columnist for the largest regional newspaper in San Diego County and other professional journals for over 15 years.
“The column was written in a “Dear Abby” format to keep the consumer interested,” says Miller. “That approach seemed to work as from time to time, people would recognize me in a restaurant—so I was quasi-famous! It was great for business!”
Miller’s advice to students and young lawyers can be summed up in one word—experience!
“I have seen too many young attorneys who are simply out of their depth,” says Miller. “Get as much experience as you can, and don’t be bashful about asking for help from really experienced people. For students, the Cal Western faculty are there to help you, and they make themselves available. For alumni, there is the CWSL Facebook page; but don't just use it to ask for referrals to attorneys in other cities, ask questions of the others. Take advantage of that availability.”
Walking into California Western’s 350 building for Reunion 2019 was one of the few times that Miller has been back to the law school since his graduation in 1974. For Miller, the magic was still there.
“It was an amazing experience to see how the school has not only survived but flourished,” he says. “And to see the portraits and memorials to some of my late professors gives me a deep sense of history and perspective for which I’m thankful.”
For Miller, it was a priority to reflect this thankfulness in a tangible way, which is why he has made a provision in his estate plan for a gift to California Western.
“I think it is important to give back,” says Miller. “People helped me, whether they were professors, teachers in high school, mentors, etc. so I want to help those following me. I guess there is a certain feeling of immortality (or some type of good feeling) when one does that.”