Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Obama's Legal Career: "He Didn't Try Any Cases"

From Chicago Sun-Times December 17, 2007: "The oratorical skills White House hopeful Barack Obama has shown on the stump -- and in his "There's not a black America and white America ... there's the United States of America" speech -- would seem to make him a natural for wowing juries.

So why did Obama never make impassioned speeches in court when he returned to Chicago from Harvard Law School in the early '90s to, as his Web site says, "practice as a civil rights lawyer"?

A review of the cases Obama worked on during his brief legal career shows he played the "strong, silent type" in court, introducing himself and his client, then stepping aside to let other lawyers do the talking.
Only once did Obama appear before the prestigious 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, where Judge Richard Posner is legendary for tearing into inexperienced lawyers. But Posner knew Obama as a fellow senior lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School and kept his grilling polite. Obama never lost his cool, and he won the case.

Obama campaigns as a Harvard Law grad but never claims to match the courtroom skills of rival John Edwards, who won multimillion-dollar verdicts for his clients; or even of Hillary Clinton, whom opposing counsel remember as a formidable adversary during 15 years as a litigator at Little Rock's Rose Law Firm.
Obama admits he played a mostly behind-the-scenes role at his law firm, Miner Barnhill & Galland. He researched the law, drafted motions, prepared for depositions and did other less glamorous work during his three years full-time and eight years "of counsel" to the firm. Many trial lawyers spend their time similarly, part of a trend over the last 20 years of settling a greater percentage of cases before trial.

"I was an associate, and a lot of my work was in the research and writing," Obama told the Sun-Times on Sunday.

"I was one of the better writers. I ended up doing the more cerebral writing, less trial work," Obama added. "That's actually something I regret -- not doing more trial work."

"He wrote lots of substantial memos, but he didn't try any cases," said Judson Miner, a partner in the firm who was Obama's boss.
A search of all the cases in Cook County Circuit Court in which Obama made an appearance since he graduated from Harvard in 1991 shows: Zero.

His practice was confined mainly to federal court in Chicago, where he made formal appearances in only five district court cases and another five in cases before the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals -- a total of 10 cases in his legal career. He was on the winning side of just about all those cases. Miner said there were 30 cases to which Obama contributed in some way."