Sep 4, 2013
This story was originally published in Buzz Magazine. To read the most up-to-date Buzz Magazine, click here.
By Adam Van Brimmer
Kristi Miller figured to make her living on the courts, just not the courts most associate her with.
The Georgia Tech tennis great took the bar exam in August after graduating from Emory University’s Law School. Assuming she passes that test, she’ll start her career as a lawyer later this year with Atlanta firm McKenna Long & Aldridge.
She won’t see much of the courtroom initially. She’s breaking into the profession doing corporate law, such as contracts and other transactional matters. But she admits the lure of the people’s court proved stronger than the draw of center court.
Practicing law always appealed to her more than professional tennis, be it as a player, teacher or coach. Her college success – national player of the year in 2006, anchor of the 2007 NCAA championship team – prompted her to try life as a pro. But after a year as a player and another two as a teacher and coach, she knew she was destined to carry a briefcase, not a racquet bag, to work every day.
“My goals in tennis all involved college tennis,” Miller said. “I’m glad I went pro, but I’m glad I stopped. I wouldn’t want to look back on my life a few decades from now and see I’d never done anything beyond tennis.”
Tennis was Miller’s life for her first quarter-century.
She’d shown an interest in law as a teenager. She interned at a law school where she “answered phones and ran stuff over to the courthouse.”
But tennis soon trumped other activities. She won the Michigan state title as a senior and rose to No. 13 in the national junior rankings. She practiced and played year-round throughout her college career and once she turned pro.
“Most Tech students work in their fields in the summers while still in school, but I didn’t have any sort of work experience beyond tennis,” Miller said. “I clerked for a judge my first summer of law school and was like `Wow, this is pretty amazing.'”
Miller clerked for Cobb Superior Court Judge Lark Ingram in summer 2011. Last year, she interned as a summer associate for McKenna Long & Aldridge, rotating “through different areas to get a feel for what you want to do.”
She’d gone into the internship thinking litigation would be her law destination. The drawn-out nature of lawsuits turned her off, however. The athlete in her demanded to see results for hard work. Hence, her interest in corporate law.
“In tennis, you hit a ball and either win or lose a point,” Miller said. “I want to be able to see where my work goes and how it affects things. If I amend a contract and send it to a client, I get it back very quickly.”
Miller still gets her tennis fix.
She plays on an ALTA team, pairing with her husband, another former Georgia Tech tennis star, 2005 All-American David North, in mixed doubles. The team also features former Yellow Jackets Marko Rajevac, Amanda McDowell and Alison Silverio. Other teams in the league are littered with former college and professional players.
“I am very fortunate to be able to say I have the best mixed partner in ALTA, and I’m not just saying that because I’m her husband,” North said. “She makes me look good. “
Playing recreationally, albeit at a high level, rekindled Miller’s tennis interest. She stopped playing once she made the transition from touring pro to teaching pro in mid-2009. She had found the solitary life of a pro player unfulfilling, and not just because she lost nearly as many matches as she won in a year on the women’s tennis mini-circuits.
“I couldn’t turn my brain off on the tennis court; I was always worried about what happens if I win, what happens if I lose,” she said. “I wasn’t happy being on the road. I was on the phone with my mom every week upset. Tennis was no longer fun for me.”
Teaching tennis didn’t require her to play, and she enjoyed her year-and-a-half directing the junior tennis program at Marietta Country Club. She didn’t embrace competitive tennis again until she’d left the sport completely and enrolled in law school. Not having the pressure to succeed for the first time since she was a girl made the difference.
Miller’s Georgia Tech tennis legacy is as sharp as ever.
She was Georgia Tech’s first All-American in women’s tennis and can still claim to be the leader of the only Yellow Jacket team to win an NCAA championship (the football program’s titles are technically wire service championships). She mentored McDowell, who won the 2008 NCAA singles title.
She credits Georgia Tech’s former coach, Bryan Shelton, and his successor, Rodney Harmon, for the program’s continued success. She does take personal pride in being a part of establishing the program.
“I understand a little bit what I meant to the program – in a sense at least,” Miller said. “We had a lot of success, and now there is a respect out there for Georgia Tech tennis. We’re getting quality players every year. We have a new tennis center. All that says something about what we started.”
Miller wants to leave her mark on the law as well. She worked as hard in law school as she did playing tennis, her husband said.
“She can go, like, eight hours without a break,” he said. “She’s going to be as great a lawyer as she was a tennis player.”
Kristi Miller’s Georgia Tech career
* Program’s first All-American
* Five-time All-American overall (singles and doubles)
* 2006 Honda Award winner (national player of the year)
* NCAA today’s Top VIII Award recipient (2009)
* Captain and lead player on 2007 NCAA championship team
* 2006 ACC Tournament MVP
* 2005 ACC Rookie of the Year