Meredith Miles has the mind of a lawyer and the heart of a social worker. It’s hard to know where the former came from—she certainly didn’t expect to go to law school—but there’s no doubt the latter was nurtured by her mother. Growing up, she saw her mother working with at-risk youth, adding her whole life has been dedicated to other people. Much like her mom, connecting with and understanding people is at the center of everything Miles does.
When Miles graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English, she packed up her Toyota and drove from Chapel Hill, North Carolina, to Washington, DC, taking a job in sales that she really enjoyed. “I realized that sales is about empathy,” she reflects. “It’s about learning what the needs are and what motivates the person on the other side.”
What frustrated her, though, was having to let other people make and deliver the product. After four years in sales, she decided to go to law school where she noticed a distinct difference between the two professions. “In law, you sell what’s in here,” she says, motioning to her head. “You get to advocate and argue based on your analysis. The product is you.”
To build a better “you,” she tells aspiring attorneys to work before going to law school, explaining that life experience of interacting with different people prepares you to better understand cases. Being plugged in allows you to see more sides to issues, which leads to more thorough analysis. “Working first and being engaged in your community really does help you be a better lawyer,” she says.
After graduating, Miles spent seven years as a civil litigator before joining Altria Group, the parent company of some of the nation’s leading producers and marketers of tobacco products for adults twenty-one and older. In order to focus its business on cigarette alternatives for smokers, the tobacco giant sold its Michelle Wine Estates business to Sycamore Partners for $1.2 billion in 2021. Over the course of her twenty-year tenure, Miles has held multiple jobs at the company and is now senior assistant general counsel for Altria Client Services.
The business is currently realigning its organization against its vision of Moving Beyond Smoking, leading the way in moving adult smokers away from cigarettes by taking action to transition millions to potentially less harmful choice, of which the attorney is especially proud. The ultimate goal is to help adults who can’t or won’t quit using cigarettes transition to smoke-free products. Per usual, Miles sees it all through the compassionate lens of a social worker, understanding just how difficult change can be. It’s why she says everything Altria is doing to implement this new vision is so worth it.
Within her team, Miles leads with a focus on teaching and collaboration. Building trust and making time to check in and mentor each member of the staff, especially young folks, is a priority. “The team is like a machine and trust is the lubricant that keeps us going,” she says. “They know they can reach out to me morning, noon, or night about work or personal matters, and I’ll have their back.”
Even with this at-the-ready attitude, Miles learned early in her career the importance of having a life outside of work. She stays physically active and says that gives her the energy to do her job. She is also active in her community and serves on the board of the Virginia Repertory Theater, a local theater organization that produces musicals and plays, has traveling shows, educational programming and camps, and is focused on ensuring the entire community has access to all it has to offer.
And it will come as no surprise to learn that Miles does an extensive amount of pro bono work, her favorite being in landlord/tenant law. “It’s amazing because I get to educate my clients on what their rights and obligations are under their lease and on the law and help them get fair treatment,” she says.
Miles has a tremendous amount of experience and expertise to share, but even she is still learning. In fact, the day before speaking with Modern Counsel, she had attended a company presentation about imposter syndrome that she said was fascinating. “I recognized the younger me during the presentation,” she admits.
It got her thinking about these feelings of phoniness that, unfortunately, many people feel. Over the course of her career, as she’s learned more and taken on higher roles, Miles has started to feel more like “heck yeah, I deserve this spot!”
Her hope for young attorneys is that they are able to feel the same way. Even if they aren’t sure of themselves, they can know that someone is sure of them. “Whoever hired you did it for a reason because you are really smart and can do whatever project is given to you,” she says.
“Meredith has a consistent approach to solving complex problems. She focuses on what’s important and asks hard and thoughtful questions. She is also very reasonable and practical, and extremely easy to work with.”
—Matthew Eisenstein, Partner