WASHINGTON--The title of a new biography of Michelle Obama is simply "Michelle" by Washington Post Magazine writer Liza Mundy, and an excerpt running in the Sunday edition tells of her discontent as an associate at the Chicago law firm of Sidley, Austin, a "challenge to manage."
Barack Obama met Michelle at the firm Michelle joined after Harvard Law School. She was part of the marketing group one of the "fun" practices at the firm--dealing with entertainment, after all, but there still was routine second year associate work Michelle Obama was not crazy about.
"But Michelle could also frustrate her supervisors. Quincy White, the partner who helped recruit Michelle and who headed the marketing group, remembers finding her a challenge to manage. White, who is now retired from the firm, says he gave her the most interesting work he could find, in part because he wanted to see her advance, but also because she seemed perennially dissatisfied.
She was, White recalls, "quite possibly the most ambitious associate that I've ever seen." She wanted significant responsibility right away and was not afraid to object if she wasn't getting what she felt she deserved, he says.
At big firms, much of the work that falls to young associates involves detail and tedium. There were all sorts of arcane but important rules about what could and could not be said or done in product advertisements, and in the marketing group, all the associates, not just the new ones, reviewed scripts for TV commercials to make sure they conformed. As far as associate work goes, it could have been worse -- "Advertising is a little sexier than spending a full year reading depositions in an antitrust law suit or reviewing documents for a big merger," says White -- but it was monotonous and relatively low-level.