Skip to main content

Phylis Myles named Assistant Dean Emeritus

by Jessica Rotter,

Phylis Myles
Phylis Myles
Phylis Myles

When Phylis Myles began her time at Willamette Law as the Assistant Dean of Career Planning and Development, it was only meant to be a temporary career move. That changed almost immediately when she fell in love with the community and never looked back. Now, as she retires from her current role and assumes an emeritus position, Myles reflects on her impressive career and the impact that she made on the law school. 

After graduating from undergrad, Myles applied to law school only to quickly realize that she would rather enter the business world. She spent time working in a variety of journalist and marketing positions, quickly rising through the ranks at large corporations. During that time, and throughout her career, Myles recalls often being the only woman in the room. That experience, while hard, inspired her to be an advocate for social justice and to make change for future generations of women. 

During her career, Myles spent a significant amount of time negotiating contracts, each time going to the legal department for final approval. As she did, she often felt that she had the experience and knowledge to do this on her own. With that, the idea of finally going to law school became a reality.

At 38 years old, following an already successful career, Myles decided to pursue her passion and go to law school. Living in Chicago at the time, Myles and her husband decided that law school would be the perfect opportunity to have a lifestyle change and move to another part of the country. They got out a map and quickly narrowed their choices down to Washington or Oregon. 

Myles visited every law school in both states, focusing on the schools where there were other people her age and a large number of female law students. When her husband was offered a job in Portland, Oregon, Myles made her decision and enrolled at Lewis & Clark Law School. She enjoyed her time at law school, making lifelong friends, and learning valuable skills that have carried her through her career. 

She also discovered her passion. In particular, an employment discrimination class opened her eyes to exactly what she wanted to do for a law career and exactly how she could make a difference. “I’ve always wanted to help people and advocate for justice, law school showed me exactly how I could make that possible,” Myles says. 

Following graduation, she went to work at Craine & Love, Oregon’s first-ever all-women law firm before ultimately opening a law firm with her husband. Throughout her career as an attorney, Myles never forgot what it felt like to be the only woman in the room during her “first career.” This motivated her to join the founding committee for Oregon Women Lawyers (OWLs), an organization she is proud to have helped launch  and to see grow over the years. 

“Throughout my attorney career, there is no one big case that comes to mind, but it was the day in and day out of helping people. To see that some of the work I did during my career is still making an impact, makes it all worthwhile,” Myles shares. 

Finding a purpose

After being diagnosed with cancer in 2004, Myles knew she couldn’t keep up the workload required for her practice and focus on her health. A friend from law school had recently left her position at Willamette Law and recommended that Myles apply. Thinking it would provide a brief change of pace, she began her new role shortly after, in what is today the Office of Career Planning and Development. “When I got the position, I expected to just work there for a couple years and then go back to my practice. Almost immediately though, I discovered how much I loved the work. I never knew how much I would love working with students and serving the legal community,” she shares. 

Students who have worked with Myles say that her dedication to the community is easy to see. In fact, Nani Apo JD’13 shares that her path through law school and the legal community would not be the same without Myles. “She taught me the importance of mentorship, professionalism, and grace in the legal community, and I strive to bring those qualities to my current roles working with student law clerks and new attorneys at the Department of Justice,” Apo says. 

For 17 years, Myles served as the Willamette Law representative for the Oregon State Bar Advisory Committee for Diversity & Inclusion. In this role, not only did she have the opportunity to advocate for the law school’s students, she was also able to help connect Willamette Law students to judges and attorneys throughout the state and alumni with non-profit boards and other organizations. 

In fact, Myles has always felt that her role in OCPD is as a connector. She connects with students and then helps to connect them to the resources they need. Michael Tyner JD’20 says, “She connected me with amazing mentors while I was in law school. Whether that be other upper division students, Willamette graduates, attorneys, and judges. Dean Myles is great at connecting people and she always encouraged me to put myself out there.” 

The impact of Myles’ devotion to being a connector is best shown through the overall growth and success of the Attorney-Mentor program. The program connects 1L law students with local members of the Oregon State Bar to provide mentorship opportunities throughout students’ time in law school. When Myles joined OCPD, the program included roughly half of the 1L students and a handful of local attorneys paired up at random. Now, the program has grown to include nearly all of the 1L class, with many students carrying on through their 2L and 3L years, and a waiting list of local attorneys. Numerous alumni cite the experience as a highlight of their time in law school and go on to serve as attorney-mentors. 

This growth is a direct result of the relationships that Myles has made with the local legal community and the efforts she has made to engage students from the moment they set foot in law school. She also puts weeks of careful planning and consideration into matching students and mentors. “To see the growth of this program and the impact it makes on both the students and the mentors, well, I hope that is my legacy at the law school,” Myles says. 

In thinking about her legacy at the law school, Willamette Law Dean Brian Gallini, shares, “I am deeply grateful to Phylis for her service to the College of Law. Throughout her time, she has advised countless students on pursuing their professional goals and finding fulfilling career paths after graduation. Her deep knowledge of the legal field, excellent mentoring skills, and genuine care for each individual student have made her an invaluable resource for our community. Phylis exemplifies what it means to devote oneself to empowering the next generation of legal professionals.”

By seeking to build a career around helping others and forming connections, the impact that Myles has made is certainly felt beyond the law school. In 2019, she was awarded the Oregon State Bar’s highest honor, the Award of Merit. This award, which is not given every year, serves to acknowledge the broad-reaching impact of the work Myles has done throughout her entire career. Now, as she begins her next chapter as the Assistant Dean for Career Planning and Development Emeritus, Myles will certainly be carried on both at Willamette Law and in the broader legal community.

About Willamette University College of Law

Willamette University College of Law was the first law school to open in the Pacific Northwest. Building on deep historic roots, we focus with pride on educating the next generation of problem-solving lawyers and leaders. Our location in Salem, Oregon, directly across the street from the Oregon State Capitol and Supreme Court, cannot be matched in the region. Our thought-leading scholars advance and promote our shared responsibility to make a difference in society, placing justice, fairness, and equality at the heart of everything we do.

Related Stories

View All
Willamette University

Willamette Law to celebrate its 138th Commencement on May 19

05.17.2024 | Jessica Rotter

JoAnne Brandes JD’78 to give the commencement address; Judge Norman Hill JD’94, Professor Robin Maril, and Madeline Hueske JD’24 also recognized.

Willamette University

Willamette University expands its footprint in Portland’s Pearl District to support growth in its graduate and professional programs

05.08.2024 | University Communications

The Ecotrust building, renowned for its sustainability-focused design and commitment to community engagement, will now serve as a nexus for Willamette University's Portland-based graduate and professional programs.

Willamette University

“Fifty Years in the Conflicts Vineyard” Symposium to honor Symeon C. Symeonides

05.01.2024 | Jessica Rotter

The symposium is co-hosted by Willamette University College of Law and the Conflict of Laws Section of the Association of American Law Schools

Willamette University

University Communications

Waller Hall, Fourth Floor
Willamette University
900 State Street
Salem Oregon 97301 U.S.A.