Charted: Where America’s law schools and lawyers stand politically

A surprisingly liberal profession.
A surprisingly liberal profession.
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Law might be the most politicized profession in the United States. While there are plenty of relatively apolitical corporate or divorce lawyers, many lawyers work for the government (an estimated 8% of the total). More presidents have been lawyers than any other profession, and a majority of sitting senators right now are lawyers.

So which way does the profession lean ideologically in the US?

Harvard researchers looked at a huge dataset that measures ideological intensity by how much people donate to certain candidates, and cross-referenced it with one that identifies lawyers in the US. They looked at the profession as a whole, in addition to how everything from education to geography to practice area affect the picture.

For each lawyer, they calculated a “CFScore,” which ranges from -2 (extremely liberal) to 2 (extremely conservative).

Overall the profession leans center left, with an average somewhere around Bill Clinton:

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One of the most fascinating breakdowns is by school. Overall, schools trend liberal, with only 31 out of the 200 examined showing a more conservative overall graduate base. And all of the top 12 law schools skew pretty heavily liberal, with UC Berkeley (shocking!) having the most liberal distribution.

All of the top six, Yale, Harvard, Stanford, Columbia, Chicago, and NYU have very few conservative alumni. The University of Virginia and Duke still lean left, but have a higher proportion of conservative grads (35% and 37%, respectively).

Here are the most liberal schools among the 200 with the largest numbers of political donors. (Note that since these are liberal CF Scores, they’re negative rather than positive.):

And here are the most conservative:

Most Big Law attorneys and elite school grads live and work in a group of ten congressional districts that vote for Democratic presidential candidates at a rate of 74% and up. California, Washington D.C., New York, Massachusetts, and Michigan skew particularly far to the left.

In Alabama, Georgia, Lousiana, South Carolina, Texas, and South Dakota, the average lawyer is conservative.

There’s also variation by firm type. The largest firms tend to be liberal, as do the most prestigious. Partners are a bit more conservative on average, which is unsurprising as they’re more likely to be older, richer, and whiter.

The type of law practiced matters as well. Oil- and gas-focused lawyers for example, as well as those who do mergers and acquisitions tend to be pretty conservative. But entertainment and civil rights lawyers are extremely liberal.

So where do lawyers stack up against other educated professions overall? They’re not quite as liberal as journalists, academics, and tech workers tend to be. But they’re not quite as conservative as bankers and doctors.

And perhaps reassuring in today’s age of polarized politics: There are very few that are extreme on either side.