Why are so many politicians trained lawyers? Is it because they find the practice of law so dissatisfying, is it because the skills they possess match ideally with those required to become a politician or is it a combination of the two or are there other reasons?
I searched online for a list of US Presidents and their occupations. At Wikipedia I found such a list and counted 25 lawyers. There have been 43 US presidents but only 42 presidents bearing in mind Cleveland’s re-election to a non-consecutive term. In the recent bid to choose candidates for both parties there were 6 Democratic and 6 Republican candidates with law degrees; and after the next Presidential election there could very well be another US President who is a qualified lawyer.
An examination of leaders and other politicians from other countries also reveal a preponderance of lawyers. Canada according to the Parliament of Canada website has had 22 Prime Ministers with law degrees, out of a total of 28. In the Caribbean, Hubert Ingraham of the Bahamas is a lawyer, David Thompson of Barbados is a lawyer, Fidel Castro former President of Cuba studied (not sure if he practiced) law and Ralph Gonzalves of St. Vincent is a lawyer. According to the Parliamentary library in Australia, 42% of the Australian parliament comprises lawyers. Remember Tony Blair of the England? He was a lawyer and so is the French President Nicolas Sarkozy. What is going on?
It seems that lawyers just love leading and/or enjoy the fruits that comes with political positions. To be fair however, being a politician involves persuading a large group of people that you have the best ideas, that you can resolve their problems and generally that you are better than the next guy, just like the trail lawyer. It involves legislating and who better is able to understand laws and their application (even their potential manipulation)? It involves diligence to the task at hand and all lawyers are trained to function on a few hours sleep and then work like maniacs. It involves negotiating deals, agreements and treaties and lawyers particularly lawyers in civil litigation are often skilled negotiators and I could go on and on.
However outside of their skills and training are there other considerations for this relationship between the law and politics? How about economics as a factor. Many lawyers enter the field as it is viewed as a good money source but what is the connection with politics? They may see politics as a natural stepping stone where they can gain status or make contacts which will guarantee a continuation if not expansion of their already high earnings. I once read on CNN that Bill Clinton earned $7.5 million for speaking engagements in 2005. If lawyers even fail at politics they can return to practice law with their new found contacts/potential clients in hand. Not a bad deal and it could in fact be considered another factor, namely flexibility. You leave law enter politics, lose elections return to law and the cycle continues.
Then there is the over abundance of lawyers. It seems given the numbers being bandied about that everyone is studying law. Yes the field of law is over saturated. I could not locate the source myself but I read an article by Thomas C. Reeves at the History News Network which claimed that, in the United States in 2007, according to the American Bar Association there were 1,148,358 attorneys, while there were 1,066,328 in 2000. Dan Quayle is reputed to have said that the US has 5% of the world’s population and 70% of the world’s lawyers. Now I don’t know if those figures can be relied on – don’t forget that infamous “e” on potato – but I think we can agree that there are a heck of a lot of lawyers out there. So if there are so many of us grabbing for a share of the pie why not exit that rat race and join another? Become a politician and gain fame, fortune and of course more power.
This brings me to my original point about the dissatisfaction with the practice of law. Does that have any relevance here? I mean if we consider the drudgery involved in drafting and re-drafting fine print, battling for the last cent of your legal fees, scouring the planet for clients and fighting treachery in the court room and the firm well why not seek the glamor of the politician’s life. Wait! What exactly is that? Is it socializing with the rich and powerful, making speeches in front of television cameras and rolling up your sleeves and helping your constituents to fight injustice. Oh sure that is the glamor part but it may also mean scheming, maneuvering, meeting women in hotels a la Governor Spritzer, showing deference to contributors and coping with the reality that big money and corporate sponsors are king.
Sounds familiar? Maybe, just maybe lawyers have been so shaped by their training and the experiences gained in their careers that they have been molded to become the perfect politicians.