Correll stands no more than 5-foot- 3.
With thick black hair and delicate features,
she could easily be mistaken for an actress.
Striding into the expansive, modernist
waiting room of her solo firm, where she
practices business litigation and estate and
trust litigation, she exudes strength and
certainty. Her office is as purposeful as her
gait. A large painting hangs on the wall
in her direct eyeline, and a neatly curated
bookcase sits next to her desk. The only flairs
of whimsy on display are three bobbleheads
placed in a careful row facing visitors: two
are Supreme Court justices—Antonin Scalia
and Anthony Kennedy—and the third,
wearing a Bluetooth earpiece, is “Better Call
Saul” Goodman from Breaking Bad.
“I just love Saul,” says Correll. “He’s
“It was scary,” she says, “But it got me
just such a terrible, evil lawyer. [My
fiancé] got that one for me. He’s like,
‘You’ve got to have a sense of humor
about the law practice.’”
Correll started out at Quinn Emanuel
Urquhart & Sullivan, then went to
Latham & Watkins. “Michelle was very
successful in big firms,” says Mark L.
Smith, a former operations partner at
Hickey Smith, who has worked with
Correll on multiple cases. “She could
have stayed in big firms her entire
career.” Instead, at age 34, she made
another big decision and hung a shingle.
back to why I got into this business in the
Correll, 19, with her father, upon his retirement from Dow Chemical. His divorce from her mother—
and the injustice therein—first led Correll to consider the law.
GROWING UP WITH A CHINESE MOTHER
and an American father in a small town
dominated by the chemical industry,
she was one of only a handful of nonwhite kids in her elementary school. She
guesses there was just one black student
and she was the only Asian student in her
While her father held down a steady
She did. Rice University is an hour from
job as an engineer, her mother became
abusive when Michelle was 5. “I got the
crap beaten out of me every day growing
up,” she says matter-of-factly. “I thought
the woman was going to kill me.”
To escape, Correll turned her focus to
school and extracurricular activities. Along
with playing the oboe, she did gymnastics,
always with an eye toward leaving town.
Lake Jackson, but it provided the emotional
distance she needed. At first, Correll
considered liberal arts but got vetoed.
“My dad’s viewpoint was, ‘If I’m paying
for college, I want you to have something
marketable so you can go out and get a
job,’” she says.
Correll went her father’s route—
“It was young associates who were
engineering—and enjoyed the challenge. But
as classes became more technical, Correll
began to question her choice. “I’m good
at math, but gosh, the whole thing about
circuits,” she says. “To this day, I still don’t
know how I managed to get through that.”
Wondering what to do after graduation,
she found the answer while ambling
around a career fair. “The CIA had a booth
set up,” she says. “I thought, if I’m going
to test this engineering degree, the CIA
sounds like an interesting place to do it.”
Correll worked in the organization’s
Directorate of Science and Technology,
which is responsible for developing
gadgets for operatives. Correll can’t
reveal her job title, nor anything about the
gadgets, but she admits, “The role of the
directorate is like Q from James Bond.” She
knows it sounds sexy, but she found the
job to be little more than seat-filling and
decided to keep moving. In her downtime,
Correll studied for the LSAT, and got
accepted to Georgetown University Law
Center. Near graduation, she was wooed
by Quinn Emanuel, a firm that appealed to
her, she says, because of its litigation focus
and its laid-back attitude.
casually dressed. They said, ‘Hey, at our
firm we think to be a good lawyer you
don’t have to wear a suit,’” she says.
“They prided themselves on giving young
associates trial experience.”
Christopher Tayback, a partner at Quinn
Emanuel, was among Correll’s first mentors.
“Michelle is exactly the kind of lawyer we
hope to attract,” he says. “She’s very self-
motivated and willing to take on new cases.
When you’re a new lawyer, I think it’s easy to
be intimidated by subject matter you don’t
know. Michelle not only had enthusiasm but
an appetite for jumping in.”
Correll was given small cases to work on,
including a series for IBM. The company
was involved in contractual disputes
surrounding the improvement of several
school districts’ technology systems.
“Michelle was responsible for several
“I just adore Quinn Emanuel as a firm,” she
of those cases from soup to nuts,” says
Tayback. “I supervised her with minimal
oversight. ... All of them settled.”
Then her undergraduate degree came
back to haunt her. Recognizing the earning
potential of patent litigation, the firm
aggressively recruited young associates
with technical backgrounds, and sussed
out which existing associates had similar
backgrounds. Correll, the engineering
major, found herself working patent cases.
says. “The only reason I left was because
they were putting an emphasis on the