“Big-hearted,” “caring” and “genuine” may not be the first words that come to mind when you think of lawyers. But JAX Chamber 2016 Small Business Leader of the Year John McE. Miller, a Jacksonville Beach attorney, isn’t your typical lawyer.
Many who know him would likely add “one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet” to that list. That’s one of the secrets to Miller’s success in business. Miller, in his own words, “Strives to make the world a better place in whatever opportunities arise in my life.”
“John Miller is a kind, caring and knowledgeable businessman I am proud to call my mentor,” said David J. Strohecker, a certified financial planner with D2 Capital Management. “He leads by example with his integrity, competence and professionalism. John is truly an outstanding individual and cornerstone in our community and Jacksonville business.”
Miller first spent time in Jacksonville while completing a clerkship after his second year of law school at Washington & Lee University. He decided to make Jacksonville his permanent home after securing a position as an associate attorney at a downtown Jacksonville law firm.
In 1990, Miller purchased a historic 100-year-old home in Jacksonville Beach. He opened his own law firm shortly thereafter in 1991, starting out in Ponte Vedra and then expanding to Jacksonville Beach. His early work was predominantly as a trial attorney, but he also dabbled in business transactional and real estate law.
After 21 years in business as John McE. Miller, P.A., in 2012 Rock Solid Business Law, PLLC was born because Miller wanted “a brand that better described who I am and what I do” and “was more than just a string of surnames.”
As he grew more comfortable as a business owner and attorney, Miller found that his “talents lay more in getting people together to create deals and transactions, rather than helping to fight over them in lawsuits, once matters had gone bad.”
Rock Solid Business Law today has three main areas of practice: real estate law especially related to helping people purchase their home, business transactional law focused on small and medium-sized businesses, and estate planning law to help clients plan for their family’s future after they pass away.
“In this way, we help people put their family, business, property and home on a foundation of Rock Solid rock,” says Miller. “I try to be plain-spoken, friendly and to demystify the law.
“The clientele to whom I appeal seems to be very appreciative of this innovation, and Rock Solid Business Law reflects this approach to the practice of law. People from all walks of life are comfortable in our office.”
Figuring out what he’s best at and what work he most enjoys doing while also balancing the specific needs of his clients has been a priority for Miller throughout his evolution as a small business owner. Rock Solid Business Law today is the result of finding and achieving that balance.
Miller is also heavily involved with his firm’s marketing, writing his own marketing plan and choosing a logo that had personal meaning to him since a young child. The story of “The Sword in the Stone” captured his imagination, and he based the logo off that imagery and the idea of each individual’s personal struggle, creating a better world for the common good and building a solid rock foundation for his clients.
Over the past four years, Miller has been able to go from one employee to four employees using new management techniques gained from enrolling in a national practice management advisory catering specifically to solo and small-firm lawyers.
Miller’s firm’s receipts had stagnated around $100,000 a year for several years before adopting the new techniques. Miller increased his firm’s receipts by 50% two years ago, and by 100% last year. Many of the techniques Miller learned taught him to operate his business using practices from other industries, and shifted away from how law firms have traditionally operated.
Sitting down with a trusted advisor for planning purposes every six to nine months outside of the office is another practice Miller credits for increased business growth in recent years. The planning sessions cover long-term and short-term growth goals, marketing strategy and tactics and employees.
Competition among attorneys and law firms continues to be intense in Duval County as it is in most major cities. Miller made a conscious decision not to compete with the advertising dollars of big firms, but instead to forge relationships with prospective clients the old-fashioned way— in-person meetings and consultations. He’s also focused on setting up his business to help other JAX Chamber members through his involvement with the JAX Chamber Beaches Division.
When the Great Recession hit, Miller had the time to pause and pivot his business to provide additional services and focus on what services Baby Boomers needed as many in that generation moved toward retirement and estate planning. While his business load in real estate law decreased during that time, he was able to make up that lost business through expanding his estate planning law services.
Miller has worked hard to offer services equivalent to that of the large law firms in the area, but with a more personal touch. For example, after a home closing is completed at Rock Solid Business Law, Miller and his staff host a “Closing Celebration” for the new homeowners that includes a champagne toast. Keeping clients top of mind and building those relationships has steadily increased Miller’s client base while also saving advertising dollars.
Many top Jacksonville business leaders also endorsed Miller’s bid for Small Business Leader of the Year, demonstrating Miller’s strong relationships in the community from top to bottom. Jaguars President Mark Lamping, Jacksonville Beach Mayor Charlie Latham and prominent attorney Henry “Hank” M. Coxe, III all wrote endorsement letters.
Miller also racked up an additional 23 written endorsements from clients and other folks he’s worked with in the community over the years. All filled with the highest of praise that John McE. Miller is an exemplary small-business owner and citizen.
Building relationships and trust with his firm’s employees is also one of Miller’s top priorities. Empowering his employees by giving them the responsibility and authority to carry out tasks with the end result has shown to be a successful management style for Miller. He currently employs two paralegals and two administrative assistants, and anticipates hiring an office manager in the next year, followed by a experienced associate attorney. These additions to the firm will enable continued growth while keeping the personal touch Miller’s firm is known for.
Miller is well-known as an active community leader in Jacksonville Beach and the greater Jacksonville area. Miller’s other claim to fame is as an accomplished musician and lead singer of local rock and blues band BayStreet.
As an attorney, Miller has served as Jacksonville Beaches Bar Association president and as a member of the Jacksonville Bar Association, Florida Bar Association and American Bar Association.
A longtime JAX Chamber member, Miller served on the Public Policy Committee and on the Board of Directors of the Beaches Division. He has also served as president of the board of directors for the Beaches Business Association.
Beyond the business sphere, Miller has a busy and happy family life with his wife and two young children. He’s a very active member of Palms Presbyterian Church. He utilizes his skills as a musician to write all of the blues music for an annual service and also plays bass guitar in the church’s contemporary services. He has represented his church on many different boards and also serves as a worship leader.
Miller cites one of his proudest accomplishments as founding the Jacksonville Beach Pier Dance in 1998 with a friend. Every year they are able to donate food and toys at Christmastime to disadvantaged children through the Beach Pier Dance. He is also a founding member of the Ponte Vedra Professionals Networking Group.
“John Miller epitomizes small-business leadership in our community. He runs a successful and respected business, he serves his community in countless roles as advisor and volunteer, he’s a passionate and talented musician and, most importantly, husband and father to his family,” opined Gary Hallet, president of Gateway Business Advisors, summing up Miller’s extensive accomplishments perfectly.