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It’s a riddle that surfaces frequently in American civic life: If lawyers are so unpopular, why do we keep picking them to run the country? It’s true that six of the front-runners in the 2008 presidential race were very different kinds of lawyers. Hillary Clinton supported her husband’s low-five-figure salary as governor of Arkansas with a corporate gig at the Rose Law Firm in Little Rock. Barack Obama swapped the rarefied air of the Harvard Law Review and a potential Supreme Court clerkship for gritty civil rights law in Chicago. John Edwards drawled juries into eight-figure product liability verdicts. Rudy Giuliani ran down junk-bond king Michael Milken as a federal prosecutor. Fred Thompson played a prosecutor on television after serving as the Republicans’ lead counsel during the Watergate hearings. The sixth lawyer in the field, Mitt Romney, earned $350 million after making partner � at Bain & Co., where his Harvard business degree proved more valuable than his J.D. Still, at one point or another, they all passed a bar exam. What gives? “We kind of knew that lawyers got to run the country, but it’s a little more explicit this year,” cracks Walter Olson, conservative commentator and proprietor of the blog Overlawyered.com. Of course, upon further review, having six lawyers in a presidential race’s top tier is hardly lightning-strike odds. Sixty-three members of the Senate list their profession as law, and 25 of 43 presidents have practiced law, sometimes far more successfully than they practiced statesmanship. (For every Lincoln, there’s a Franklin Pierce, a Democrat best known for the quote “After the White House, what is there to do but drink?”) But even if a J.D. is no guarantee of political acumen, it’s easy to see the current field’s legal backgrounds as formative. How could a Giuliani administration not beef up Justice Department staffing, or an Edwards administration resist turning the anemic Consumer Product Safety Commission into a scourge of defective swing sets? Another lawyer-turned-president might also be good for the District’s legal crowd. “It would lead you to expect that, when it comes time to make appointments, a lot of people who will be their first thought will be lawyers,” says Olson. Ambassadorship to Luxembourg, anyone?
Jeff Horwitz can be contacted at [email protected].

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