Obama Got Start in Civil Rights Practice
Tuesday, February 20, 2007; 2:29 AM
CHICAGO -- Attorney Judson Miner called Harvard to offer a job to a graduating student named Barack Obama and didn't expect to be showered with gratitude. Still, he wasn't expecting the reception he got.
"You can leave your name and take a number," the woman who answered the phone at the Harvard Law Review said breezily. "You're No. 647."
That was 1991 and even then Obama _ the Illinois senator now seeking the Democratic presidential nomination _ was a hot commodity.
As the first black president of the Harvard Law Review, Obama had his pick of top law firms. He chose Miner's Chicago civil rights firm, where he represented community organizers, discrimination victims and black voters trying to force a redrawing of city ward boundaries.
Like many lawyers, Obama never took part in a trial. He spent most of his nine-year career working as part of a team, drawing up contracts, briefs and other legal papers.
The firm of Miner Barnhill & Galland, many of whose members have Harvard and Yale law degrees, has a reputation that fits nicely into the resume of a future presidential candidate.
"It's a real do-good firm," says Fay Clayton, lead counsel for the National Organization for Women in a landmark lawsuit aimed at stopping abortion clinic violence. "Barack and that firm were a perfect fit. He wasn't going to make as much money there as he would at a LaSalle Street firm or in New York, but money was never Barack's first priority anyway."
The firm offered another advantage to Obama. It was close to the political action.
Miner was Chicago's corporation counsel under Harold Washington, the city's first black mayor, in the 1980s when Washington was battling for control of the City Council against remnants of the once-mighty Machine.
Miner introduced Obama to a number of people in politics. Obama already knew many others, having worked as an organizer in the black community before he entered law school.
Obama was part of a team of attorneys who represented the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) in a lawsuit against the state of Illinois in 1995 for failing to implement a federal law designed to make it easier for the poor and others to register as voters.
A federal court ordered the state to implement the law.