Attorneys at the small firm where he worked say he was a strong writer and researcher, but was involved in relatively few cases — about 30 — and spent only four years as a full-time lawyer before entering politics.
Obama arrived in Chicago in 1993 with a degree from Harvard Law School and was hired as a junior lawyer at the firm then known as Davis, Miner, Barnhill & Gallard. He helped represent clients in civil and voting rights matters and wrongful firings, argued a case before a federal appellate court, and took the lead in writing a suit to expand voter registration.
But the firm also handled routine legal matters and real estate. Obama spent about 70% of his time on voting rights, civil rights and employment, generally as a junior associate. The rest of his time was spent on matters related to real estate transactions, filing incorporation papers and defending clients against minor lawsuits.
In one instance, Obama defended a nonprofit corporation that owns low-income housing projects against a lawsuit in which a man alleged that he slipped and fell because of poor maintenance. Obama got the suit dismissed.
In another case, Obama appeared on behalf of a nonprofit corporation that provided healthcare for poor people. A woman who claimed income of less than $8,000 a year had sued Obama’s client to obtain a $336 payment for baby-sitting services; Obama’s client paid up, and the case was settled.
In 1994, Obama appeared in Cook County court on behalf of Woodlawn Preservation & Investment Corp., defending it against a suit by the city, which alleged that the company failed to provide heat for low-income tenants on the South Side during the winter.
Those were not the cases Obama highlighted in the self-portrait drawn in his first memoir, “Dreams From My Father.”
“In my legal practice,” he wrote, “I work mostly with churches and community groups, men and women who quietly build grocery stores and health clinics in the inner city, and housing for the poor.”