Look at any group of people running for higher office, and you’ll find that a significant number of them have a legal background.
Being a lawyer has gone hand-in-hand with being president since we began having presidents: John Adams, Abraham Lincoln, Gerald Ford, and Barack Obama are just a few of our many lawyer presidents, and of course, presidential hopefuls like Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, and William Weld are all legal professionals. But why are lawyers so often attracted to politics in the first place?
Lawyers spend much of their time identifying and analyzing issues, finding the best available solutions. Those who spend a lot of time in court and/or work in advocacy need to be talented public speakers, able to persuade and easily get a point across. Politicians need to be educated about and comfortable with legislation—trying to get laws updated, voting on completely new laws, etc. When looking at what the two professions entail, it’s obvious how legal skills can easily translate to political life and even raise a politician’s chances for success.
Should So Many Politicians Be Lawyers?
It’s no secret that lawyers don’t have the best reputation in many circles—you’ve heard the jokes, you’ve seen the stereotypical characters in movies and on television. Of course, people are similarly mistrustful and skeptical of politicians. It’s been argued that our money-infused political system gives an automatic advantage to lawyers who graduated from elite law schools and have monied connections, ensuring that our country is primarily run by and for the rich. The counterargument to that complaint is that lawyers bring a lot of value to the political positions they hold, and have diverse backgrounds and views just as those coming from any other profession. And who better to be involved in policy and legislation than those who know our constitution and laws the best?
Though lawyers—especially those who are at the top of their game and have plenty of connections—are uniquely positioned to enter politics, the political game is obviously not for everyone who happens to have a law degree. Campaigning can be grueling, especially since it’s common practice for opponents to dig for dirt in each other’s pasts, as well as attack seemingly innocuous, casual comments. Aspiring politicians must be extremely careful with every word and action while appearing open and remaining accessible to the public. In fact, a politician needs to love the public in a way that may seem a bit much for most people.