Lawyers as Leaders

Will our next president be an attorney?  Is that an important requirement for being the leader of all 311 million of us?

Article Two of the U.S. Constitution sets out the three eligibility requirements for our chief executive who must be:

(1)  A natural born citizen

(2)  At least 35 years old

(3)  A U.S. resident for at least 14 years.

The Constitution doesn’t require a background in the law or even a college education (I’m looking at you, Harry Truman, inter alia).

Double drop-out.

Among our presidents we have had an actor, a tailor, a newspaper publisher, several school teachers, and many soldiers and farmers.  We even have had a haberdasher (I’m looking at you again Harry Truman, acknowledging that you were a pretty good president by most accounts). We also have had a boatload of lawyer presidents.

Last semester my Estates, Trusts and Wills students were asked to research the estate plans of the American presidents.  Each student was assigned a different president and they were asked to locate and analyze their president’s Last Will and Testament (almost all of our 43 presidents have died testate).  They were required to investigate their president’s heirs as well as their funeral/ burial matters and any other juicy information they could find about their president’s estate.

I was so proud of my students!  They prepared beautiful family trees and papers and they all made wonderful class presentations about their presidents.  I hope we all learned a lot. I know I did.

We discovered some profound facts – a disturbing number of our earliest presidents owned slaves (and some made dispositions of their slaves in their wills).  Many of our presidents lost quite a few children each – the infant mortality rate in the U.S. really has sucked. (Note that today, our infant mortality rate is still pretty dismal – 34th in the world).

Meanwhile, with the presidents on my brain, I was privileged to visit the ABA headquarters in Chicago in June.  There, I was thrilled to find a cool exhibit about the U.S. presidents who were attorneys.

Although the Constitution doesn’t require a legal background, it turns out that of our 43 presidents, 26 have been lawyers!  I was so pleased that most of my favorites have been lawyers.

(Note to my current students – the following list discloses a facet of my politics.  You are WELCOME to disagree with me.  I know that you are intelligent and mature and able to form your own opinions without being swayed by reading mine.  I’m glad to hear your point of view if you care to share it!)

So, here are some lawyers I am really proud of:


One of our most popular presidents was not a lawyer but his brothers, Robert and Ted Kennedy were lawyers.


Unfortunately, one of our worst presidents was a lawyer AND the only U.S. president to be disbarred. I’m looking at you, guy.

So yes, one of our lawyer presidents was just awful, but consider  our most recent non-lawyer presidents:

All photos are from the White House website:

and, of course



So what do you think?  Should our next president be a lawyer?

I photographed all of our attorney presidents at the ABA’s exhibit and you can see the entire exhibit here.


2 Responses to “Lawyers as Leaders”

  1. 1 Cherry Parris November 6, 2012 at 12:47 am

    Our next President should be a lawyer. At least he would have knowledge of laws and rules and regulations that help shape the country.

  2. 2 Roselyn Rosa November 6, 2012 at 3:10 pm

    Our next president should be a lawyer because they will have knowledge about different law areas which can help in their position as a chief executive officer. Of course, they will also have the proper education history, as a college education and law school degree which will also help.

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