Adjunct Access: Judge Kara J. Miller
Adjunct Professor Kara J. Miller’s fascinating career has included earning a law degree from George Washington University and an MBA from Fordham, working for a law firm, learning business strategy at a steel company, managing multiple judgeships, and teaching at Fordham Graduate School of Business Administration.
Kara Miller’s career started with an undergrad thesis on women in prison, which led to law school at George Washington (GW) University. At GW, Miller quickly realized that “she was not sure why she was there.” The aggressive atmosphere was in sharp contrast to her collaborative nature. Even in this environment she completed the degree, knowing she would not practice law for long. She kept hearing that she could “do anything” with a law degree, but career services’ focus was on legal positions. They were not prepared to help students with a non-traditional job search. After graduating, Miller decided to join a small firm to gain practical legal experience, but as expected, she did not enjoy the work and yearned for more.
This is when Miller’s unconventional career path began. After two years at the firm, Miller headed to France for a six-week immersion program. Her goal was to improve her French and land a position in Europe. She headed to Brussels with high hopes but after countless interviews and no job offers, she began to doubt her choice. The companies were “not quite sure what to do with an American lawyer with no business experience,” Miller says.
She realized that she needed an MBA to get into the business world and headed to New York to earn her MBA in International Marketing at Fordham. She found Fordham to be a refreshing change from GW; the atmosphere was “congenial and cooperative.” To fund her MBA, she applied for a Graduate Assistant (GA) position and was selected to work with the Dean.
Dean Arthur Taylor was quick to capitalize on Miller’s law degree, and he asked her to draft speeches for him. She settled into this role, traveled with him to speaking engagements, gained an amazing perspective on the school, and developed professional bonds with professors. While she was still a student, the area Chair of the Marketing Department asked if Miller might create and teach a course on marketing and the law. At the same time, her Economics professor, Michael Olsher, asked if she would work for his steel company, Olsher Metals.
After graduating from Fordham, Miller stayed with the steel company and began teaching the marketing/law course. Working for Olsher Metals, she gained invaluable experience in running a business, especially how an entrepreneur manages a company and how to market and sell a product. But she still did not feel satisfied in her career. In 1998, after five years with Olsher Metals, Miller decided to return to her law background and began working per diem as an administrative law judge for the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC).
Miller was delighted to discover that she loved being a judge! At the same time as this epiphany, Miller’s MBA and management experience led the TLC to offer her a position supervising all judges. As is often the case, Miller’s diverse experience and broad knowledge propelled her into an unforeseen career.
In 2000 she was offered the managing attorney position at the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings (OATH). OATH is NYC’s independent tribunal for all City agencies. Miller managed the judges, promoted business, and acted as OATH’s media contact. After two years, she was appointed as an administrative law judge with a five-year term. Almost 50 percent of OATH’s cases are settled without a trial, an enviable statistic for any courthouse. Miller knows that her MBA – where she learned to negotiate, manage people, and enhance her people skills – helps her resolve cases without a trial.
During her zigzagging career, Miller continued teaching at Fordham, where she currently teaches the Business Law I core course. Students tell Miller that they were able to use her lessons outside class – when purchasing a home or reading an employment contract. The most important thing for Miller’s students to take away is that the law touches every aspect of their lives. “Contracts may be boring, but think of how many you’ve signed without understanding what they said?” she says.
Through her varied career, Kara Miller has gained invaluable wisdom and savvy. One lesson she makes a point to impart to all who listen is “do not always take what someone says at face value.” She recommends learning to read body language and really listening to what is being said. Further, she says, “Don’t make rash decisions when you find yourself in a sticky situation or dealing with difficult people. Take time to think things through. Your decisions will have ramifications for you, your career, your company, and your co-workers.”