While both Michelle and Barack Obama did at one point hold law licenses in Illinois, they each no longer are certified to practice law by the Illinois Bar Association. In 1994 Michelle let her license go inactive, and Barack “voluntarily retired” from law in 2008. While this may not seem strange on the surface, it is actually very unusual behavior in the world of law. Lawyers will actually go out of their way to maintain a law license even if they are not currently using it, because giving up a law license is widely seen as avoiding disciplinary action.
One argument defending Obama is that he gave up his license when he decided to run for president, as other presidents have likewise given up their licenses. This is not entirely true however; those other presidents only gave up their licenses under very specific conditions.
Nixon surrendered two licenses after he left the White House: California and the Supreme Court. He tried to surrender his third license in New York State. The state Bar’s disciplinary agency disbarred him in July of 1976. It asked him to sign a statement that he was innocent of obstruction of justice. Not wanting to perjure himself, he refused. (Full Article).
So although technically Nixon was not disbarred, it was precisely because he knew he would be disbarred if he did not voluntarily give up his license. Similarly Bill Clinton was held in contempt of court for offering intentionally false testimony during Jones v. Clinton in 1999. Since Clinton still had a law license from Arkansas, it was suspended by the Arkansas Supreme Court in 2000. Clinton later resigned from the Supreme Court bar in 2001 after his license was suspended with 40 days to contest disbarment. The choice for these two Presidents was clear: give up your law license or be publicly humiliated by disbarment, which would also limit future professional opportunities.
While this does not prove Barack or Michelle were under investigation or risked disbarment, it does suggest an ulterior motive for leaving law. Since voluntarily giving up a law license is seen professionally as a black mark (just below disbarment or related disciplinary action) it would have made more sense to keep the law license, and avoid any speculation. Romney still has his law license, and I am guessing that the money it costs to keep the degree would not have been sufficient reason for Obama to give his up in 2008.
So why did Obama give up his law license? This could be related to his reasons for not releasing his college transcripts from Harvard.
There is widespread speculation on the Web, which I regard as plausible, that this is why [Obama] refuses to release his undergraduate transcripts. His grades were fine. His problem is this: the name on these records cannot be successfully altered retroactively. It was not the name he told the Illinois Bar Association was his. He was asked if he had ever used a different name. He said yes. Academia did not care. The Bar Association does. (Full Article).
Michelle Obama was only 29 when she went inactive, being granted the request by the Bar Association when she was 30. Seems like a young age to quit law after paying for law school, and working hard to get where she was. Even if she had decided on a career change, why give up the possibility of returning to law? Also, why tarnish your professional reputation, since anyone in law would see giving up a law degree as fishy? Are there plausible explanations for why she and her husband gave up their law licenses? Yes. But:
the most plausible reason for their having abandoned their licenses was to avoid disciplinary action and the threat of public disbarment. That was what Nixon and Clinton fully understood. (Full Article).
The following is written by a lawyer explaining the way lawyers and judges act when the possibility of official punishment arises.
A grievance can be filed by pretty much anyone, but grievances are confidential because of the potential to damage an attorney’s reputation – even when there is no basis for the grievance. Going public with the filing of a grievance is a violation of the accused attorney’s confidentiality – and is thus a disciplinary infraction on its own. ONLY after a probable cause panel has determined that there is probable cause to proceed and file a complaint with disciplinary counsel is the complaint (filed by the panel) a matter of public record.
Another Judge in our area was under heavy investigation. Disciplinary Counsel showed up at his office, took 100 files and his assistant’s computer. About 10 days later, the Judge resigned for “health reasons”. He is listed on the Supreme Court website as “permanently retired”. He surrendered all licenses, but his record shows no discipline and no surrender of licenses. The general public knows nothing about what was going on that led to the visit by disciplinary counsel, even though the local bar associations do.