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Robin Davis Miller
Educator With A Bite

Robin Davis Miller, C'83, L'88, calls her job as general counsel for the Author's Guild a "wonderful blending of law and love of writers." She describes herself as an "educator with a bite," explaining that the bite comes from the fact that "I can burst into law at any moment."
As an undergraduate at Penn, Miller was executive editor of The Daily Pennsylvanian and an English major who specialized in creative writing. She won the Judy Lee prize in playwriting and also wrote a "bad novel," she says. After a Thouron Fellowship in 1983-85, the budding journalist, who had worked one summer at The New Republic, wound up attending law school instead "for a variety of reasons." She worked as a litigator for the New York law firms of Rogers and Wells and Kornstein, Veisz, Wexler, both active in representing writers, before returning to Philadelphia to join Drinker Biddle Reese, with the promise of being able to start a literary practice at the firm.
While there, she began lecturing on writers and the law to various groups -- including a creative writing class at Temple University taught by the novelist David Bradley, C'72, a friend she knew through the DP. Bradley was a member of the Authors Guild's board and told her she should apply for the executive director's job, which was then open. "What are you doing at a law firm, anyway? I never got that," she remembers him saying.
"My first job was to run the place," Miller says. "My best experience [for the job] was running the DP." She started in 1993 as executive director, then shifted to being general counsel in fall-winter 1995, around the time her son Benjamin was born. She and her husband, Stephen Miller, W'83, also have a year-old daughter, Melissa.
These days, Miller spends a lot of her time giving speeches, on subjects such as negotiating a better book contract (her topic on a stop in Philadelphia last fall) and public speaking for writers (a favorite among children's book authors, who can make half their earnings giving speeches, Miller says). She also speaks before other associations, from romance writers to textbook authors, the Authors Guild being a kind of "grandfather group."
While the Guild's 7,000 members include bestselling authors, most are "struggling to make a living writing," says Miller. The organization's purpose is to "minimize hardships from not understanding business and legal affairs." Mostly authors work in isolation and may negotiate a handful of publishing contracts over their working lives, while publishers negotiate hundreds annually. "We level the playing field," she says, which has greatly improved standards. The Guild's lawyers review about 1,500 publishing contracts per year, so if a publisher tells one author, for example, that they don't negotiate electronic rights, "we can point to four clauses they've signed that did that," Miller says.
Currently, there are five lawyers on staff, along with10-15 legal interns and lawyers practicing in other areas who donate two days per week to gather experience in this specialty. Having this kind of legal firepower at their disposal for the membership fee of $90 yearly is very useful for such a "tame" group as authors, Miller says. "If you're a litigator, you don't actually need to go to court." By Susan Lonkevich

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Copyright 1997 The Pennsylvania Gazette Last modified 7/7/97