We Can Hear Him Now
Verizon’s Randy Milch wins approval from the FCC to open up America’s long-distance telephone lines
Published in Business Edition Super Lawyers 2010 magazine
By Nick DiUlio on August 27, 2010
Randy Milch loathed the idea of becoming a lawyer for quite some time. While majoring in history during his undergraduate years at Yale, his older brother Tom—a Yale alum and current chair at the Arnold & Porter law firm in Washington, D.C.—would often return to campus to interview prospective law students for summer jobs at his firm. During these visits, he would invite his younger brother to dine with the candidates.
Milch remembers, “I would go out to dinner with these young law students who were all kissing up to him, and I would be such a jerk to these guys. They were so straight, and here I was, this undergrad with long hair and a beard. I thought, ‘Man, I’ll never be a lawyer. What jerks! They’re so serious.’ I just couldn’t see it.”
He came around. Today, he’s the executive vice president and general counsel of Verizon Communications.
His vision began to change after graduating from Yale, when he moved to Washington, D.C., with hopes of securing a job on Capitol Hill. He had his eye on the Foreign Service, having been named a foreign officer, but not assigned. When Reagan came in, the offers for all the FSOs of his class were withdrawn. So instead he worked as a paralegal for the U.S. Synthetic Fuels Corp. As the only non-lawyer in the legal department, Milch found himself working long hours while only bringing in a fraction of his colleagues’ salaries.
“I was in there doing all the hard work and looking at these lawyers making these six-figure sums,” he says from Verizon’s sprawling Basking Ridge, N.J., corporate campus, not far from its New York City headquarters. “I thought, ‘Well I could do what they’re doing. This is ridiculous.’ So it was time to go back to school.”
At 24, he enrolled at New York University School of Law, a time he recalls with unqualified fondness. “I was one of those geeks who actually liked law school,” he says, raising an eyebrow. “I enjoyed it soup to nuts.”
His years at NYU were followed by a clerkship with Clement F. Haynsworth Jr., chief judge emeritus of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and a move back to D.C. in 1986 to join Rogovin, Huge & Schiller. There, he spent much of his time on international arbitrations and complex federal litigations for major corporations. It was a dynamic and formative time for the young lawyer, who was at one point sent to Bucharest to take part in arbitration between Occidental Petroleum Corp. and the Romanian State Coal Co.
“This was right after [communist dictator Nicolae] Ceausescu had been deposed. The buildings were still riddled with bullet holes,” he says. “And here I was negotiating with these burly men in ill-fitted suits and permanent five o’clock shadows. And they were more than vaguely menacing about me suing them.”
His colleague Paul Crotty, then a firm partner and now a federal judge on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, points out that Milch’s trademark congeniality and patience have served him well. “[Randy] has a great legal mind, and he blends it with a very charming personality. Having worked with him all those years, he never got flustered. He was always pressing forward with remarkable skill, but never rubbing anybody’s faces in it. He’s a marvelously talented human being who has great interpersonal skills. And that comes naturally to him, because you can’t learn how to be a decent person.”
Everything changed for Milch in 1993, when he got a call from a former colleague asking him to work in-house for Bell Atlantic. At issue was a case involving a smaller telephone company that was demanding use of telephone lines and switches belonging to Bell, which then had a legal monopoly on the East Coast. Milch says that they “lost successfully,” because, although the right to use Bell’s facilities was awarded to the competitive company, Bell did not have to subsidize the competitor’s use of the facilities. Six months later, he was appointed general counsel to Bell Atlantic-Maryland. “And then the whole telecom world exploded,” he says. “Since then, it’s been a nonstop wild ride.”
Prior to the passage of the 1996 Telecommunications Act, federal and state governments controlled 90 percent of the industry. Today, the figure is almost completely inverted. “Fundamentally, Americans distrust monopolies,” says Milch. “And there was a realization that competition would be better than a state-regulated monopoly.”
When President Bill Clinton signed the bill, regulatory barriers were struck down, opening up markets for competition. Telephone company mergers were commonplace. Lawyers like Milch, meanwhile, were just trying to keep up.
“Technology doesn’t respect the best-laid thoughts of the people who try to govern it through legal settlements,” he says.
Most notably, there was “an explosion of state regulatory litigation” across the company’s seven-state region. The litigation arose between the new and incumbent telephone companies, which now had to share phone lines, work out pricing for services and settle on competitive points of entry.
“In short, state regulatory litigations were contested cases before state regulatory commissions,” he explains. “They included massive discovery, experts, fact witnesses, policy witnesses, live multi-day hearings—with cross examination—before either administrative law judges or the state commissioners themselves, and lengthy briefs. The only thing missing was a jury.”
Milch handled such cases in 14 jurisdictions, with the most significant one unfolding in New York. There he successfully argued that since Bell Atlantic met the Federal Communications Commission’s 14-point checklist from the 1996 Act—indicating that its local telephone services allowed for competition—it could then expand into the then-forbidden Holy Grail long distance business. It was a watershed moment.
“New York was the first jurisdiction in the nation—and Bell Atlantic the first local provider in the country—that made it through the ’96 Act gauntlet,” he says.
In the summer of 1997, Bell Atlantic merged with NYNEX and in 2000, it merged with GTE to form Verizon Communications, one of the largest mergers in U.S. business
history. Milch was named a deputy general counsel, and became the first general counsel of the Verizon Telecom, tasked with providing legal advice for all the services over wires in the U.S.—for the first time without the overriding restraint of state and federal regulation.
“So now we were out on our own, which was a good thing,” he says. “Suddenly, all of these things we never had to worry about, things that didn’t carry that much money with them, were now the lion’s share of what we were doing.”
With the 2006 acquisition of MCI, he became the general counsel of Verizon Business, the subsidiary that was created as a result of the merger; and in 2008, he was appointed to his current post. “From a technology and business standpoint, it’s chaotic,” he says. “So it’s my job to help the company figure out a safe and legally appropriate way to chart our course through that chaos. And that’s an enormous challenge.”
But he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I have the unbelievable opportunity and blessing to be able to interact with all of these people about stuff that is much bigger than simply providing telephone service,” he says. “And I think I’ve come to appreciate that now like I never did before.”
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