In the United States, admission to the bar by a particular court system is needed to practice law in that system. Each U.S. state and similar jurisdiction (e.g. territories under federal control) sets its own rules for bar admission (or privilege to practice law).
In general, a prospective lawyer will need to pass a state-administered bar exam after earning a Juris Doctor degree from a law school approved by the state in which he/she wants to practice. Typically, there is also a character and fitness evaluation, which includes a background check. [Source]
In other words, becoming a licensed attorney is an arduous process. The legal education consists of these stages:
- A Bachelor’s degree, often in the Pre-law major
- Law school
- Trial practice
- Legal clinic
- Graduation with a Juris Doctor degree
Then there are the exams:
- The rigorous LSAT (Law School Admission Test)
- The even more daunting Bar Examination. (Two former students of mine, both very bright, each took the bar exam 4 to 6 times before they finally passed.)
Given how arduous it is to acquire a law license, like other professionals (such as physicians), most attorneys renew their license even when they are retired from active legal work. License renewal is easy and simple: you pay a fee and, in some states, take a few units of continuing legal education. Letting your license lapse, however, means that you’d have to re-take the bar exam to get re-admitted.
Lawyers let their license lapse for very compelling reasons, often to avoid or escape censure or outright criminal charges. As an example, Bill Clinton kept active his law license even when he became president. In 2000 the Arkansas Supreme Court’s Committee on Professional Conduct called for Clinton’s disbarment, saying he lied about his affair with Monica Lewinsky. In January 2001 Clinton reached an agreement under which he was ordered to pay $25,000 in fines to Arkansas state’s bar officials and his Arkansas law license was suspended for five years. The agreement came on the condition that Whitewater prosecutors would not pursue federal perjury charges against him. Clinton was suspended by the Supreme Court in October 2001, and, facing disbarment from that court, Clinton resigned from the Supreme Court bar in November.
So it is most curious that Barack and Michelle Obama both gave up their law licenses.
Michelle Obama attended Princeton University, graduating cum laude with a B.A. in Sociology and African-American Studies in 1985. She then attended Harvard Law School and earned a J.D. in 1988 before returning to her hometown Chicago to work at the law firm Sidley Austin where she met and was assigned to mentor a summer associate named Barack. Subsequently, she worked as part of the staff of Chicago mayor Richard M. Daley as his Assistant and as Assistant Commissioner of Planning and Development. In 1996, she became, first, the Associate Dean of Student Services at the University of Chicago; then, Vice President for Community and External Affairs.
The above information on Michelle Obama is from Wikipedia. Conspicuously missing from the Wikipedia entry is the fact that she voluntarily gave up her law license.
The website of the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission of the Supreme Court of Illinois ((https://www.iardc.org/ldetail.asp?id=847688734)) says that Michelle Obama was admitted to the Illinois State Bar Association on May 12, 1989, but she is no longer authorized to practice law because she voluntarily surrendered (“voluntarily inactive”) her license on some unspecified date for unspecified reason(s).
Here’s a screen shot of the ARDC page on Michelle Obama:
For his part, Barack Hussein Obama was admitted to the Illinois State Bar Association on December 17, 1991. He too is no longer authorized to practice law because he had “voluntarily retired” on an unspecified date for unspecified reason(s).
Here’s a screen shot of the ARDC page (https://www.iardc.org/ldetail.asp?id=596550107) on Barack Obama:
According to bloggers Johnny Alamo and James4America, Michelle “voluntarily” gave up her law license in 1993, just five years after she got the license; Barack “voluntarily retired” from law practice in 2007. The left-leaning Snopes.com denies that Michelle had “voluntarily surrendered” her law license, and insists both Michelle and Barack had merely put their law license on “inactive” status. Snopes, however, does not explain what’s the difference between Michelle’s “voluntarily inactive” and Barack’s “voluntarily retired.”
Nor does Snopes inform its readers that Michelle Obama was ordered by the court to put her law license on inactive status. An earlier version of the ARDC webpage on her (https://www.iardc.org/ldetail.asp?id=847688734) said this about Michelle: “No malpractice report required as attorney is on court ordered inactive status.” Here’s a screen shot of the web page at the time of Chelsea Shilling’s WorldNetDaily article of August 4, 2009:
By the time I accessed the same webpage yesterday, September 15, 2010, the sentence “No malpractice report required as attorney is on court ordered inactive status” had disappeared. A day later, that webpage (https://www.iardc.org/ldetail.asp?id=847688734) is scrubbed of all information on Michelle Obama. See my update, “Illinois Supreme Court Coverup For Obamas.”
H/t beloved fellows Joseph Fasciani, May, and Richard!