The Political Ideologies of American Lawyers


Bonica, Adam, Adam Chilton, and Maya Sen. In Press, 2016. “The Political Ideologies of American Lawyers.” Journal of Legal Analysis. Copy at
lawyers-ideologies.pdf1.33 MB


Lawyers occupy a dominant position in American public life. Lawyers are not only overrepresented in the legislative and executive branches of government, but they also have an entire branch of government—the judiciary—that they control exclusively. As a result, the ideology of American lawyers has been a constant source of discussion and debate. Despite its importance, however, two obstacles have prevented this topic from being systematically studied. The first obstacle is the sheer number of attorneys in the United States. The second obstacle is the need for a methodology to makes it possible to compare the ideology of specific individuals. Taken together, these two problems have made any thorough analysis of lawyers’ ideology all but impossible.

In this paper, we present a comprehensive mapping of the ideologies of lawyers that has overcome these two hurdles. We address both of these problems by relying on a new data set that links the most comprehensive database of political ideology with the most comprehensive database of lawyers’ identity. By merging a database of practicing attorneys with a newly developed database of that places anyone who has made a campaign contribution reported to the FEC in the last 35 years on an ideological spectrum, we have created the largest dataset ever amassed on the legal profession and its ideological leanings.

Using our novel dataset, we have completed the most compressive analysis of the political ideology of American lawyers ever conducted. This allows us to rigorously answer questions that have previously only been addressed with indirect, incomplete, and anecdotal evidence. More specifically, our data allows us to examine the ideology of American lawyers by the geographic locations where they practice, the schools they attended, the law firms where they work, and the areas of law in which they specialize. Our empirical findings both confirm existing perceptions and expose striking ideological divisions within the legal provision.

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