Aside from their election to the most powerful position in the US, Abraham Lincoln, Barack Obama, and Richard Nixon share another key accomplishment: they're all lawyers.
In fact, 27 out of 45 presidents studied and practiced law before becoming U.S. presidents.
In this article, you'll discover the top famous US presidents who were lawyers.
Top Famous U.S. Presidents Who Were Lawyers
The majority of elected presidents of the United States are lawyers by profession. These include:
John Adams (1797-1801)
John Adams was a well-known lawyer who was essential to the early history of the United States. After getting his degree from Harvard, he worked as a teacher for a while before attending law school. Adams learned to be a good lawyer and was known as one of the best in Massachusetts.
He later joined the Continental Congress as a delegate and helped write the Declaration of Independence. Adams was also the first vice president and the second president of the United States. He was also a vital part of the team that made the U.S. Constitution.
Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809)
Jefferson became a part of the bar at 24. He rode the circuit between the county courts while practicing law in the Virginia General Court. As one of the more intelligent attorneys in the Colony, he was always well-prepared, which led to his rapid success. Jefferson's demeanor in court was described as calm and emotionless.
Before focusing on politics, Jefferson worked as a lawyer for a while. He participated in drafting the Declaration of Independence as a member of the Continental Congress and later served as George Washington's first Secretary of State. Jefferson's legal training also impacted his presidency, which saw him attempt to develop the judicial review principle and influence American law.
Lincoln's legal reputation grew significantly from his early days as a struggling lawyer in 1837 to the point where he was representing railroads and other economic interests before his election to the presidency. Lincoln's 25-year law career includes more than 5,100 cases, including hundreds of appearances before the Illinois Supreme Court and one before the U. S. Supreme Court.
Lincoln's talents were in getting to the heart of the issue and communicating his client's argument to the jury in a way that the jury could accept and understand. He worked best when he had time to prepare for a case.
Maybe more than any other lawyer-president, Lincoln carried his legal background into his presidency. His cabinet nominees, for example, were primarily attorneys, and when he sought their advice, it reminded one of a law firm partner soliciting legal briefs from his associates.
Nevertheless, his most famous public document, the Emancipation Proclamation, was meticulously drafted, precise, and legalistic.
Richard M. Nixon (1969-1974)
Before entering politics, Richard Nixon worked as a lawyer and drew on that experience throughout his political career. His legal struggles as President included the Watergate scandal, which finally forced him to resign. Nixon's legal issues significantly affected the presidency, contributing to a rise in public mistrust and a focus on accountability and openness.
Barack Obama (2009-2017)
Barack Obama was elected to the White House in a historic election, making him the 26th lawyer to hold the position. Barack Obama, the first African American to serve as President of the United States, has a distinguished legal background.
Obama taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago Law School before he entered politics, where he focused on civil rights concerns. He worked as a civil rights lawyer in Chicago to fight housing discrimination. The passage of the Affordable Care Act and the nationwide legalization of same-sex marriage are just two of Obama's notable legislative achievements in office.
How do Law and Politics Go Together?
The fact that more than half of American presidents were active in the legal system before reaching office begs the question: Why is legal knowledge such a strong starting point for people interested in entering politics?
Lawyers have specific skills that can be useful in the demanding position of the U.S. president. Logical thinking and reasoning abilities, the capacity to construct a convincing argument, and outstanding speaking skills are all required characteristics of a great lawyer — and can also be helpful for a president!
In practical terms, a legal career can pave the way for a political career by allowing a person to establish a strong reputation and network with people who can assist in funding political campaigns later.
Legal experience gives any leader, especially the President, a more vital place to govern. Law school and law practice is a crucible that opens one's eyes to the power of process and critical thinking.