Career Alternatives, Election 2012, Law Schools, Politics

Is A Law Degree Still The Best Way To Get Into Politics?

Going to law school worked out great for this guy.

And now we come to the real reason I, and so many others, went to law school: I wanted to go into politics. Before I was married, before my father’s name recognition spiked, before I was in debt, before I realized I had no talent asking people for money, I thought elected office was in my future and a law degree was an important credential.

Don’t act like I’m the only one. For as long as anybody can remember, a training in law has been viewed as a good foundation for an eventual career in politics. Even if you never practice, it makes sense that a person who would make laws would have a fundamental understanding of how laws work. A law degree also suggests a certain respect for the rules, a useful quality for those who would be in charge of the rules. In the modern era, law has been the best “career” for would-be politicians to start out in, and historically only military service has been a more common way to elected office.

But maybe that’s all changing? Catherine Rampell of the New York Times has a great piece showing that while lawyers are still the dominant profession among our senators and congresspeople, there are fewer former lawyers running Washington than there have been for a generation.

So, you know, just add one more way in which law school isn’t as valuable as it used to be…

I’m all for having fewer lawyers in public service. I think it’s important that politicians hire lawyers, but they don’t necessarily have to be ones themselves. The problem is that I’m not wild about who lawyers are being replaced with. From Rampell’s piece in the Economix blog of the New York Times:

There are similar trend lines for our congressional leaders as well. We are electing fewer lawyers and more businesspeople.

Which might be why America increasingly feels like one big Walmart. We’ve got the most pro-business Congress since 1945, the most pro-business Senate since 1945, and the most pro-business Supreme Court (ever?). Are we really shocked that businesses got a huge bailout during the financial crisis and are now beating back every regulation designed to prevent it from happening again?

You can see why it’s happening. On the campaign trail, businesspeople always contend that they can create jobs (see, e.g., Mitt Romney), but in real life, businesspeople aren’t concerned about job creation, they’re concerned about wealth creation (see, e.g., Mitt Romney). Compared to the twin dreams of jobs and money, what are lawyers selling? Rights and responsibilities? Ethics? The slow pace of considered debate? Please. I’ll take the guy who drove here in the $80,000 BMW, thank you very much.

I think there is a danger of completely turning our government over to the businesspeople: the goal of the American government shouldn’t be to make money. But I don’t think lawyers will go quietly into the night. Those who really want to go into public service will still gravitate towards law school, like moths towards a dangerous fire.

First Thing We Do, Let’s Elect All the Lawyers [Economic / New York Times]

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