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From Lawyer to Politician: Pros and Cons of Running for Office

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. | Last updated on
Abraham Lincoln got his start as a lawyer. Then again, so did Nixon. In fact, more than half of the U.S. Presidents have been lawyers. Working as an attorney is still one of the most common paths to political office, with 37 percent of the House and 57 percent of the Senate being made up of attorneys.

Politics is, after all, just another legal career. So, if you get tired of working with the laws, should you consider taking a job making them? Consider these pros and cons if you're ever thinking of making the jump from Greedy Associate to Greedy Politician.

The Pros: You Know the Law, Have a Network, and Love the Spotlight

Lawyers are well suited to be law makers. They understand the law and its implications, they know how to vigorously defend a position, and they're not averse to working with the other side when it's in their interest. Plus, they're fine being part of an oft denigrated profession.

Working as a lawyer also gives future politicians a chance to make important connections. Whether it's other lawyers, corporate leaders, judges or hey, even mobsters, lawyers will have plenty of people to turn to when it's time to ask for campaign contributions -- in addition to their super PAC.

Finally, lawyers aren't afraid of the spotlight. Whether it's arguing before a jury or debating an opposing candidate, most attorneys know how to perform in front of others. Plus, simply running for office can be good advertising, helping build a lawyer's name and brand. Think Bernie Sanders or most of the current 36 GOP contenders.

The Cons: Low Pay, Dirty Campaigning, and So Many Babies

Don't take the job for the salary, however. U.S. Senators make a paltry $174,000 a year -- and they only get a month off for recess! Somehow they still end up as millionaires, though.

Joking aside, at the lower levels, many politicians make very little. California has the highest paid state legislators, at $90,000 a year, joining the handful of states that pay a normal salary to legislators. The rest seem to expect you to feed yourself some other way -- paid speeches, perhaps? -- and offer a pretty nominal salary. You'll make just $12,000 a year in Nebraska, for example. Many of those positions can preclude private practice, so you might have to find another way to feed yourself while in office.

Get ready for the dirt, as well. Campaigning for and holding public office can be difficult. If you're running for a contested or high profile position, expect the worst of your past to be dragged out into the public at some point -- and you don't have to be Ted Kennedy or Dennis Hastert to be smeared.

Finally, holding political office means kissing babies, both literally and figuratively. You have to love the public, in a way most people could not tolerate. Perfecting your brightest smile can be more important than perfecting your five point plan to balance the municipal budget.

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