The legal profession attracts its fair share of the nation’s college graduates each year. But these soon-to-be law students are going into law for a variety of reasons. Not all are dreaming of being the next Clarence Darrow, or Clarence Thomas for that matter. In fact, many enter law school with no intention of practicing law at all!
Most law students, of course, are getting their degree so they might someday work for a big law firm or, perhaps, hang out their own shingle. Still there are those going to law school for the pure “intellectual” challenge of it all. There are those who feel a law degree would be a great asset for any business career. Then, of course, there are those who want the “perceived” status and economic benefits that flow from being a lawyer. And then there are those who someday want to be President of the United States.
OK, so I made up that last reason. But there is a kernel of truth to it. If you look at our past presidents, a law degree and the Presidency seem to go hand in hand. The fact is that 20 of our first 30 presidents were lawyers! Barack Obama is just the latest in the lawyer-president continuum.
Below is a complete list of our lawyer-presidents:
#2 — John Adams (Harvard, then apprenticed as a lawyer)
#3 — Thomas Jefferson (College of William & Mary, then apprenticed as a lawyer)
#4 — James Madison (College of New Jersey — now Princeton — then read law)
#6 — John Quincy Adams (Harvard, then apprenticed as a lawyer)
#7 — Andrew Jackson (self-taught lawyer)
#8 — Martin Van Buren (Kinderhook Academy, then apprenticed as a lawyer)
#10 — John Tyler (College of William & Mary, then apprenticed as a lawyer)
#11 — James Polk (University of North Carolina, then apprenticed as a lawyer)
#13 — Millard Fillmore (studied under New York Judge Walter Wood)
#14 — Franklin Pierce (Bowdoin College, then studied law)
#15 — James Buchanan (Dickinson College, then studied law)
#16 — Abraham Lincoln (No formal education, a self-taught lawyer)
#19 — Rutherford Hayes (Kenyon College, Harvard law)
#21 — Chester Arthur (Union College, then studied law)
#22 — Grover Cleveland (apprenticed as a lawyer)
#23 — Benjamin Harrison (Miami of Ohio, then studied law)
#25 — William McKinley (Allegheny College, Albany law)
#27 — William Howard Taft (Yale, Cincinnati law)
#28 — Woodrow Wilson (College of New Jersey — now Princeton — then UVA law)
#30 — Calvin Coolidge (Amherst, then apprenticed as a lawyer)
#32 — Franklin Roosevelt (Harvard, Columbia law)
#37 — Richard Nixon (Whittier College, Duke law)
#38 — Gerald Ford (University of Michigan, Yale law)
#42 — Bill Clinton (Georgetown University, Yale law)
#44 — Barack Obama (Columbia, Harvard law)
So, will a law degree make you President of the United States? If history is any guide, it can’t hurt!