Why are Pre-Law Students Losing Interest in Political Careers?

LSAT Blog Pre-Law Students Losing Interest in Political Careers
The percentage of pre-law students considering a career in politics has dropped from 54% in 2009 to 38% today, according to recent survey results.

This decline was preceded by a similar drop in the percentage of lawyers in Congress over the past 4 decades.

I turned to my pre-law audience for answers, and the explanations I received generally fell into two broad categories:

Potential Explanation #1: Politicians Aren't Respectable
One reader suggested, "we've grown up in an age where politicians are not respectable people for the most part."

Yes, Anthony Weiner's use of Twitter didn't exactly inspire respect.

However, Nixon was a crook. Clinton (Bill) did some dirty things we all know about. In 1856, Congressman Brooks beat Senator Sumner with a cane in the Senate chamber.

It's unlikely that there's been a massive shift in the proportion of perceived (or actual) respectable to unrespectable politicians over the past 3 years.

Potential Explanation #2: Harder To Get $ in Law Now, Need $ for Politics
Another reader wrote: "politics costs money, rewards wealth. Harder to build wealth in law now"

Now we're on to something. (I'll use the brief examples of Romney and Obama for simplicity's sake. They're not meant to be representative, or even comparable, by any means.)

While Romney got a joint JD/MBA from Harvard, he made his money in business and never actually worked as a lawyer. By 2007, he had a net worth of nearly $200 million (and perhaps more).

On the other hand, Obama worked as a civil rights attorney (among other things), and had an estimated net worth of only $1.3 million in 2007.

(Sure, Romney's 14 years older, but he'd already made his money in business far earlier, leaving Bain Capital in 1999.)

It's possible, even reasonable, to make far more than Obama's $1.3 million in BigLaw, but the days of easily achieving that goal may be over. Making close to Romney's nearly $200 million as an attorney? You might've had better odds of winning the Mega Millions jackpot.

You need serious amounts of money to enter politics. If you want to get into politics and don't see the practice of law as a place to make that money, you'll go another route.

Similarly, % of Lawyers in Congress Has Dropped Over Past 4 Decades
The decline in percentage of pre-law students considering a career in politics has been preceded by a decline over the past 4 decades in the percentage of lawyers in *both* houses of Congress.

The percentage of lawyers in the House of Representatives has dropped from a high of 43% in the early 1960s to only 24% today, while the percentage of lawyers in the Senate dropped from a peak of 51% in the early 1970s to only 37% today.

The numbers are declining to the point where they may come close to equaling the percentage of Congressional members with business backgrounds, at least in the House (Members with business backgrounds make up 21% of the House and 20% of the Senate).

Politicians may sometimes seem stupid when it comes to the policies they promote, but they aren't generally stupid when it comes to the prerequisites for getting into office (or else they wouldn't be there, right?)


What impact do you think it has on national legislative policy for there to be fewer lawyers and more businesspeople in Congress?

Do you intend to use your law degree to go into politics? If so, why? If not, why not?


  1. This is an interesting concept I hadn't fathomed. I'm not specifically sure how but it seems logical that having more business people than attorneys in government will affect it in dramatic ways. I can personally attest, just by studying for the LSAT and working as an apprentice to various lawyers, that attorneys are vetted to provide and process material in a logical, direct, succinct matter. As one of my mentors always says: Lawyers can be business people, but not all business people can be lawyers.

  2. I would disagree that pre law students aren't interested in political careers. Personally I plan on attending law school, working in the big law for a few years to get to know people, collect some cash and then start seeking my candidacy. Hopefully I cant start as a republican council man and move up from there. I think we need more republican law makers in NYC. This is NYC, we need rough laws, high security, surveillance, etc... Something Dems are highly against. No offense to no one, just expressing my opinions. love you all!

  3. I'm a current student at a T-14 school. I plan on returning to my home state and entering electoral politics. Of course, I have strong familial connections that will help construct a foundation, but I'll be the first in my family to run for election since a great-grandfather.

  4. The prospect of the majority of congress being comprised of successfull business people is alarming. While I admire those with the talent to legally amass a fortune through hard work and good decision making, i do not believe that they should determine how the country is operated. I think that there is an inherent conflict of interest when there are elite capatalists drafting legislation(tax policy, financial regulations, allocation of resources). With this said, i am unaware of the extent to which the lobbyists for major corperations already influence the legislation . It might not make much of a difference if our civil servants are already the puppets of elite business people.