Are Lawyers Saying Good-Bye To Politics?
February 22, 1999
Lawyers have always been a staple of American politics, overcoming -- on a proportional basis -- representations by farmers, teachers, engineers and entrepreneurs. But in the state -- and even in the U.S. Congress -- that seems to be changing. In short, lawyers can make more money on their own than in elected office and they are increasingly choosing to go for the money.
- The percentage of lawyers serving in the U.S. Congress dropped from 58 percent in 1969 to 43 percent this year.
- In New York, the proportion cascaded from 61 percent in 1969 to 34 percent in 1999.
- In California, just 22 percent make up the legislature this year, versus 48 percent in 1969.
- In all states as of 1976, lawyers made up 22 percent of legislators -- a figure which dropped to 16 percent as of 1995.
During the same period, teacher representation dropped from 8 percent to 7 percent.
Other categories such as insurance and real estate also dropped.
So from what other fields did legislators come from? "Retired" was not a category in the 1976 survey, but it accounted for 8 percent in 1995. Also, 3 percent of legislators identified themselves as "full-time" legislators in 1976, which rose to 14 percent in 1995. That could have included some lawyers.
This year, California legislators earn $99,000 a year and those in New York get about $90,000. Last year, legislators in 39 states were paid less than $30,000. The annual salary in Congress is $133,600 -- and the benefits are generous.
Source: Richard Perez-Pena, "Lawyers Abandon Legislatures for Greener Pastures," New York Times, February 21, 1999.
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