Don't Forget, Hillary Was Once a BigLaw Partner

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on August 03, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Hillary Clinton, like many presidential contenders throughout history, is a lawyer. This is hardly a secret. Her work at the Children's Defense Fund and advocating for the rights of the disadvantaged generally is often touted by the candidate and her campaign.

But Hillary's public interest work is only a small part of her history. For much of her legal career, Clinton worked as a corporate lawyer and as a partner at one of the most venerable firms in the South.

From Professor to Partner to Presidential Contender

After graduating from Yale Law School, Hillary moved to Fayetteville, Arkansas, with Bill. There she worked at the University of Arkansas Law School, setting up a legal aid clinic and teaching criminal and constitutional law, not children's law. (Her work at that clinic later came back to bite her a bit, after Clinton defended a man accused of raping a 12-year-old girl, getting him off with time served.)

From there, she moved to the Rose Law Firm. The Rose Law Firm isn't as large or as well-known as, say, Latham or Skadden; currently, it has just over 30 attorneys and only a single office. But in the South, it has long been part of the legal establishment. (And its venerable reputation has survived even some of the worst Clinton-connected scandals, including Whitewater.) In Arkansas, Rose Law is BigLaw.

There, she spent most of her time working on corporate matters. And that work likely left a strong mark on her. Way back in 2008, the American Lawyer's Susan Lehman described Hillary as a product of corporate law: "professionally risk-averse; relentlessly, unreasonably reasonable; people who look perpetually ready to pull another all-nighter in the library stacks."

A Ground-Breaker and a Bar Exam Failure

Hillary's early career trajectory might not seem too exciting today. After all, going from Yale to academia is so common it's almost cliché. And, while moving from the academy to legal practice is rarer, it's not entirely uncommon.

But when Hillary Clinton did these things, she was breaking new ground. Long before she was the first major-party female candidate for president, she was one of the first women to join the University of Arkansas's law faculty. She was the first female associate at the Rose Law Firm and its first woman partner.

But she wasn't so great at the bar exam.

Before starting her career in Arkansas, Hillary sat for the D.C. bar exam, not exactly the most difficult one in the world. She didn't pass. It was that failure, she says, that convinced her to leave D.C., marry Bill, and move down South. Of course, she didn't stay away from the capital for too long.

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