Encouraged by her colleagues in the Willamette Law Placement Office, Assistant Dean Phylis Myles opened the fancy black envelope from the Oregon State Bar last week. Inside, there was a surprise. Myles will be given the OSB’s highest honor, the Award of Merit, at a ceremony in November.
Myles’ name will soon be among those of three governors and two Oregon Supreme Court justices, just the eighth woman to receive the award in 68 years. To be listed along with them leaves her speechless, she says.
“When I look at the list of past recipients, it’s the old imposter syndrome — they must have made a mistake,” she says. “I had not even a glimmer that this was on the horizon. I look at the list, and to have my name among those people is very powerful.”
But the award isn’t a mistake, and it’s very much been earned by Myles — and more, says OSB President Chris Costantino JD’01.
“You look at Phylis on paper, and it’s a no-brainer,” Costantino says. “When I saw she was nominated, I thought ‘Of course.’ It’s her depth and length of service in all different facets. She is integral to everything wherever she is.”
Costantino says Myles has an approach that is genuine, and she desires to help and serve the legal community in any way she can. Her consistency throughout her career — in service to the legal community, law students, the bar and the bench — illustrates a contribution that is exactly what the award stands for, Costantino explains.
Myles says she always wanted to give back like her mother. Her personal mission has been influenced by family members from marginalized populations and the discrimination she herself endured as a woman in the corporate world.
“My mother was very serious about reaching out to people who are not part of the predominant culture,” Myles says. “It was important for me to carry that on.”
As a second-career lawyer who began attending law school at age 38, Myles knew she wanted to help people. After earning her JD at Lewis & Clark Law School in Portland, she began working for the first all-women’s law firm in Oregon. Later, she opened her own firm with her husband, focusing on employment law discrimination.
When she won her first case, she remembers her client being overwhelmed, a moment that has stuck with her throughout the years.
“He said, ‘Nobody’s ever stood up for me before,’” she says.
Following more than a decade of working in employment discrimination, Myles now is in a third career, no longer practicing law but helping law students find their own career paths.
For 15 years, she has worked in the Willamette Law Placement Office. As assistant dean, Myles enjoys making connections for students and finding attorney mentors who can inform them about particular areas of law. She fell in love with working with students, she says, and uses her corporate communications and legal experience to strategize with them.
Myles stays busy outside of her job, currently serving on the Advisory Board for Diversity and Inclusion for the OSB Board of Governors and the Executive Board for the bar’s Diversity Section. She is a founding member of Oregon Women Lawyers (OWLS) and is also on the Board of Directors for the Portland Gay Men’s Chorus.
Costantino says Myles’ work in diversity, equity and inclusion is especially notable.
“She is someone we should all try to emulate,” Costantino says. “Phylis does it all in this quiet way — it makes me smile. Who better could I pick for this award than her?”
Myles hopes receiving the award will be helpful as she continues to seek opportunities to support students, women and diverse attorneys.
“People will tell you I work behind the scenes,” Myles says. “To be recognized and to realize that people know what I’m doing is a great honor.”