Carolyn Lisa Miller was born in Manhattan and raised in Edison, New Jersey. After graduating from Princeton University in 1992 with an English degree, she earned a JD from Columbia Law School in 1995. Miller has worked almost exclusively as a government attorney since she graduated law school.
Miller began her legal career at the New York City Law Department as a pre-trial attorney in the Bronx Tort Division. She stayed in the Bronx for two years before transferring to the Manhattan Tort Division to work as a trial attorney. In the one year Miller spent at the Manhattan Tort Division, she selected 20 juries and took seven cases to verdict. “There’s no better way to learn how to be a trial lawyer than just being a trial lawyer non-stop,” said Miller.
After three years at the Law Department, Miller spent six and a half years working as an Assistant United States Attorney in the Civil Division of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District. On leaving the U.S. Attorney’s Office, she took an associate position at Willkie Farr & Gallagher, an international law firm. While Miller was at Willkie Farr & Gallagher, the firm was hired by an Independent Audit Committee of the City of San Diego to help with an investigation into San Diego’s pension system. The pension system had been depleted and was in danger of being rendered incapable of meeting its financial obligations. Miller’s work on the investigation required her to interpret ethics codes and analyze the decision-making processes used by high-level government officials. This experience sparked her interest in governmental ethics law.
In August of 2006, Miller moved to the New York City Conflicts of Interest Board as the Director of Enforcement. After eight and a half years in that position, she left the Board to serve as the Deputy Bureau Chief of the New York City Litigation Bureau at the New York State Attorney General’s Office. As the Deputy Bureau Chief, Miller was responsible for supervising a team of 30 lawyers and paralegals, which was responsible for defending the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision and the New York State Police Department in federal civil rights lawsuits brought in the United States District Court for the Southern and Eastern Districts of New York.
When Mark Davies, the long-time Executive Director of the Conflicts of Interest Board, retired in December of 2015, the Board chose Miller to lead the staff. She assumed the position of Executive Director in February of 2016.
The New York City Conflicts of Interest Board is an independent City agency charged with carrying out the provisions of the City’s Conflicts of Interest Law, Chapter 68 of the New York City Charter. “The law itself is very narrow,” said Miller. “It’s primarily about keeping your personal interests and your official duties separate.” The Board provides confidential advice on the Conflicts of Interest Law to current and former public servants, enforces the provisions of the Conflicts of Interest Law by imposing fines through administrative proceedings, processes the annual financial disclosure forms required to be filed by high-level City officials, and educates City employees on the Conflicts of Interest Law.
Though the City Charter mandates that the Conflicts of Interest Board educate all public servants on the provisions of the Conflicts of Interest Law, Miller explained that it would be impossible for the Board’s small staff to provide individualized education to more than 300,000 City-employees. She said the staff’s challenge is to continue to provide to City employees high-quality, individualized attention, advice and training, but reach more people. Miller questions whether new technology may provide opportunities to do things better or differently. Miller noted that the staff views live training sessions as the most effective training platform, and it is always looking for new ways to hold live sessions with its four dynamic and engaging trainers.
For Miller, the most rewarding aspect of her job is the opportunity it provides her to have an impact on the entire City. “We’re such an important and valuable part of City government and, while a tiny little part, we have the opportunity to help people have faith in the government fulfilling its responsibilities,” said Miller.
To new attorneys just beginning their legal career, Miller’s advice is to “try to do work you find valuable,” and to stay focused on the legal career you want as you pursue employment. “You can build the career that you want, even though sometimes it may take a few internships to get what you need,” explained Miller.
Jessica Soultanian-Braunstein ’15 is a Center for New York City Law Fellow at New York Law School