In a recent study done by higher-education test-preparation company Kaplan, more than half of the 514 pre-law students surveyed expressed an interest in pursuing a future running for some kind of political office.
The response equated to about 53 percent, which is an increase from the previous Kaplan study done in 2012, which showed 38 percent of those surveyed considered the possibility of a political career beyond law school. The recent percentage almost ties the survey’s all-time high of 54 percent after former President Barack Obama’s election in 2008.
Herb Asher, a professor emeritus in political science, explained the association many Americans have between being a lawyer and holding public office. He said lawyers have historically made up a large portion of those holding political office.
“A lot of people make the connection between law and running for office,” Asher said. “This notion for some people is that, well, what does a legislator do? He or she makes laws. Who better to make laws than lawyers?”
Lawyers do currently make up a significant section of legislative bodies, including Congress, which has a 35 percent majority compared with other career fields, according to the Congressional Research Service. In addition, about half of all current U.S. governors graduated from law schools, according to the Kaplan study.
Asher said law school is not required to run a political campaign, but it does provide certain advantages.
“It’s the reputation,” Asher said. “People would assume that if you’re a graduate of law school, that you must be qualified.”
Jeff Thomas, the executive director of pre-law programs at Kaplan, said the recent surge in political rallies and protests around college campuses might be creating a more politicized climate.
“Political activism has been high around college campuses, and we see particular highs around election seasons,” Thomas said. “These were especially high in 2008 and 2016.”
Thomas said that, ultimately, it’s hard to pin down what motivates students when applying to law school. However, Thomas said he encourages students to not be afraid of sharing their political goals when applying for law school.
“I think students shouldn’t shy away from their political ambitions and beliefs,” Thomas said. “Those make for great personal statement topics for law school applications.”
Thomas also reiterated what Asher had said about law school not necessarily being a prerequisite for running for political office.
“We tell students all the time to be very introspective as to why they’re choosing to go to law school,” Thomas said.