The Political Ideology of Lawyers

An interesting paper has been published (open access version here) on the Political Ideologies of US lawyers. The research has linked, “the largest database of political ideology with the largest database of lawyers’ identities to complete the most extensive analysis of the political ideology of American lawyers ever conducted.” Data on ideological leanings is derived from a database of federal campaign contributions made by individuals and that is linked, using an algorithm which matched contributors who identified as lawyers to apprioprate entries in Martindale Hubbell. Ingenious, even if not perfect. A person’s ideological commitment is calculated based on the nature and size of such contributions. Various testing was done to try and be sure this was a reasonably robust measure. It wasn’t immediately clear to me how it would deal with lawyers in the centre who did not tend to contribute. And interestingly, in their sample – which was very large – over 40% of lawyers had contributed.

They find that:

American lawyers lean to the left, [and] there is a (slight) bimodality to the distribution. Although there is certainly a peak of observations located around the center-left, there is also a second, smaller peak in the center-right. In other words, the ideology of American lawyers peaks around Bill Clinton on the left and around Mitt Romeny on the right.

Indeed, lawyers fell in the middle of seven professions: journalists and academics to the left, accountants; bankers and financial workers; and medical doctors to the right. It got me speculating, with prejudice and no significant knowledge, about what situation would be in the UK, especialy that bit about doctors. They also found that women are more liberal than men; government lawyers are more liberal than non-government lawyers; and, “law professors are more liberal than the attorney population. [Although, t]his effect is slightly smaller in magnitude than gender or government service.” Now, if you’re a practitioner in the UK, I’m betting you speculating now alongside me.

In many ways, the findings are interesting if unremarkable, much of the impact on attorney ideology relates back to where they are from, their age, and so on. Turns out lawyers from Texas are, well… you work it out. Elite firms, interestingly, and elite law schools, tend to lean slightly more towards the left relative to others. Firms that are less inclined in this direction are most often in firmly Republican States. Enron’s old lawyers are one of the few firms identified as having conservative partners and associates. Couldn’t resist putting that little factoid in.

Generally, then lawyers seem to be (in the US, on this data) somewhat less extreme versions of their local fellow electorates. They are also interestingly able to compare, depending on how accurate the specialisations in the Martindale Hubbell directory are, the relative political ideologies of different kinds of lawyers. The results are not very counterintuitive. The graph clipped below reports regression results. As such the results are not saying that all oil and gas lawyers are very right wing, just that they are significantly more right wing than other lawyers when other factors that are important are controlled for (such as age and gender).

One thing might be worth noting in the context of today’s big announcement on personal injury reform. In the United States at least, those involved in person injury defence appeared likely to be more right wing than lawyers on average, whereas claimant lawyers appear to be more left-wing than lawyers on average. That is unsurprising, but assuming it is replicated in the UK, it is a timely reminder of the likely personal political preferences of those involved in the compensation culture debate.

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About Richard Moorhead

Director of the Centre for Ethics and Law and Professor of Law and Professional Ethics at the Faculty of Laws, University College London with an interest in teaching and research on the legal ethics, the professions, legal aid, access to justice and the courts.
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