In the United States and often around the world, the political landscape is filled with lawyers and legal professionals.
There are some clear reasons for this. For example, a lawyer already has a deep understanding of the laws that form the basis of the government. They understand the complexities of the law, making it a natural fit (well, not always).
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Legal professionals also tend to be persuasive and effective when debating.
There can be more to it than that, though. Below, we delve into what to know about the links between politics and the law, particularly in the United States government.
The History of Law and Politics
Lawyers have long been associated with holding elected office in the U.S. Since the U.S. Independence, more than half of all presidents and vice presidents, as well as Congress members, have come from a background of law.
That trend has slowed somewhat, though. In the mid-19th century, it was estimated that around 80% of members of Congress were lawyers. That number went down to around 60% by the 1960s. Now, less than 40% of Congress is made up of lawyers. The office of the presidency follows a similar pattern.
Along with elected office, lawyers influence politics in other ways. For example, lawyers hold offices in policymaking and lobbying, and they’re also considered thought leaders in politics.
Why Do Lawyers Often Find Themselves Holding An Elected Office?
There’s been some research done that looks at the links between the legal professional holding an elected office—particularly in Congress.
For example, an old survey found that only 5% of the population in the U.S. had considered running for elected office, yet another survey found that around 58% of lawyers had considered it.
Lawyers are more likely than other Americans to interact socially or professionally with an elected official or have a friend or family member who holds an office. They’re also more likely to have attended a legislative meeting than the average American.
The concept of running for office might be top of mind for a lawyer simply because it’s something they’re around more and interact with more than people in other professions.
There’s also long-time evidence that shows people who go into law are already more interested in politics.
They often get interested in politics from an early age and see the law as a career that can serve as a bridge to being in office.
There’s also flexibility when you work as a lawyer, so you might be more able to take time away from your practice to run for office
Do Lawyers Make Good Politicians?
In many cases, lawyers do make good politicians, or they’re at least effective at the job.
As mentioned, they already know the legal and law system.
The nation is built on laws, which are expressed in writing. Statutes and judicial decisions, as well as the Constitution and Declaration of Independence, make up laws at every level in America. Lawyers are familiar with the infrastructure of the American legal system. They work with and maybe even draft these laws on a daily basis.
That’s the core reason attorneys are well-suited to governmental leadership positions—they simply know what makes the country function at a legal level.
Lawyers are also used to working with people all day, every day. They work with people in a wide range of settings and people from all backgrounds and walks of life. Attorneys are constantly doing consultations negotiations, participating in meetings, and being active in community events.
That leads to the development of good people skills. Lawyers learn how to read people and understand them quickly, listen, empathize, effectively communicate and offer solutions.
The American legal system is inherently adversarial. That means that sides are going against each other, and a lawyer has to create a narrative showing their position is the best. Attorneys also have to create doubt and undermine the other side’s credibility. You can imagine how this would be a strength in politics.
Candidates present their ideas and opinions to the public in an effort to gain support, and at the same time, they’re working to undermine the other side.
Finally, the legal field is dominated by compromises and negotiations. An attorney is working to find resolutions to problems that are going to work for both sides through negotiation and compromising. These are skills that can serve someone well if they work in politics too.
Skilled attorneys know when to put the pressure on, when to be aggressive and when to back off. They also know when to be conciliatory.
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Brett is the Managing Editor of this website. A former business executive turned teacher, activist, and writer, Brett also operates an anonymous Twitter account with a very large following.