The Declining Dominance of Lawyers in U.S. Federal Politics

From Nick Robinson at Harvard Law:

While the ubiquity of lawyers in U.S. electoral politics has frequently been noted, there has been almost no research on how their prevalence has changed over time, why these changes might have occurred, or the consequences of any such shift. This working paper helps fill this gap by using a unique data set that extends over two hundred years to chart the occupational background of members of the U.S. Congress. It finds that lawyers’ dominance in Congress is in slow, but steady, retreat. In the mid-19th century almost 80% of members of Congress were lawyers. By the 1960s this had dropped to a bit under 60%, and by 2015 it was slightly under 40%. The working paper also details variation of the prevalence of lawyers in Congress on the basis of geographic region, gender, race, and political party. It puts forward a set of arguments about why lawyers have traditionally had such success in U.S. federal electoral politics, including the politicization of the US justice system and the comparative advantage lawyers have over other occupations in terms of access to resources and career flexibility. It then claims that lawyers’ electoral decline may be the result of changes within the legal profession, as well as the emergence of a competing full-time professionalized political class, comprised of political aides and members of civil society, who have made politics a career. It ends by briefly exploring some of the potential ramifications of this decline on the legal profession.

File under…”division of labor is limited by the extent of the market.”

Hat tip goes to


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