Varnum corporate attorney draws on her strong background in accounting


by Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

Varnum attorney Jill Miller originally studied court reporting at Schoolcraft Community College. As part of the general studies curriculum she took an accounting course, and went on to earn her bachelor’s degree in accounting from Eastern Michigan University.

“I loved the fact every problem had an answer, which I found out later was not the case in the practice of law,” she says.

While working as a sales executive for a marketing firm, Miller—at the ripe old age of 25—set her sights on becoming the company’s CEO, and decided a law degree would be challenging and useful.

“I didn’t intend to practice law, but had my eye on that CEO’s job,” she says with a smile.

She earned her law degree, cum laude, from Michigan State University College of Law, while working full time and commuting to East Lansing from Canton several times a week.

“My internship was really my sales job, which prepared me much more than I could have imagined for practicing law,” she says, adding that she particularly enjoys working with entrepreneur clients. “I’m amazed at their risk-taking abilities and their energy level.”

A partner in the Business and Corporate Services Practice Team in the firm’s Novi office, Miller specializes in electronic payments, data privacy and security law, counseling companies in the electronic payment card processing industry on contractual and regulatory matters, and advising clients who work with mobile payments, electronic fund transfers and stored value cards.

“The electronic payments area has exploded since I began working with clients in the space,” she says. “The ability to send funds between friends, PayPal, Square and chip cards have all been game changers.”

Consumers have become somewhat immune to security breaches, she notes.

“The fight is a tough fight as fraudsters are able to quickly change their methods of stealing personal data,” she says. “In the U.S. we don’t have a national data breach law—it’s governed by state law.” 

If a client encounters a breach, the first issue is to identify in which states the breach occurred and what information was compromised, she explains.

“Since the effective date of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation, I’ve been updating clients’ privacy policies daily—most of the policies have been ignored for years.”

She has advice on how consumers can protect themselves.

“While it seems to be common sense you shouldn’t give away your personal information, the bad actors find a way to target people who are most susceptible to being scammed,” she says. “Never give personal information over the phone. If an email seems suspicious, be sure to look at the email address before responding to a request for information—the e-mail address is typically not the address you’re familiar with from your contacts.”

A member of the Wnet, Women's Network in Electronic Transactions, Miller also is a member of the Southeast Acquirers Association’s Advisory Committee, where she has developed deep relationships with the Board and Advisory Committee members. 

“When you work with a group on a big project you become part of a family,” she says. “At our annual trade show, my peers are eager to introduce me to all of their contacts and through their introduction provide a personal endorsement.”

Miller also has a background in aviation law, and advises clients on aircraft acquisitions, disposition, operation, leasing and financing, FAA filings, and International Registry requirements. She was introduced to this practice area by an early mentor, who did a lot of aircraft deals and allowed her learn alongside him.

“He left the firm to head up the aviation group at another law firm, but he still picks up the phone to answer the complicated questions,” she says.

Miller recently was accepted into Leadership Detroit Class XL, a 10-month community leadership program led by the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce, and designed to challenge emerging and existing leaders from Southeast Michigan to bring about positive change. Leadership Detroit aims to create awareness of key issues that affect the Detroit region and train individuals for informed community leadership.

“During the first weekend meeting I was amazed at the number of thought leaders participating,” Miller says. “I’m delighted to work with such an amazing group of people, not just professionally but personally as well.

“Varnum is dedicated to the program and I’m following several great Varnum partners and feel a responsibility to maintain the momentum they created while participating in Leadership Detroit Class XL.”

A life-long resident of Canton, Miller and husband Michae have an eight-year-old daughter, Kate.  “I love volunteering at Kate’s school; unfortunately they want them to become more independent in third grade, so there are fewer opportunities...,” Miller says. 

She and her husband enjoy relaxing with nights out in the Motor City. “My husband and I love to head downtown, enjoy dinner and then hit the casinos,” she says.