Critical thinking, along with strong advocacy skills, serves the attorney well in the practice of law. These same talents often lead to success as an elected official. At the federal level, attorneys filled about 40 percent of the seats in the 2015–2016 session of Congress. (Nick Robinson, The Decline of the Lawyer-Politician, 65 Buff. L. Rev. 657, 659 (2017)). More than half of all US presidents and vice presidents have been lawyers, and, of course, the federal judiciary is filled by attorneys. While lawyers are not as dominant in state offices, they still play a major role in all three branches of government.
Whether your goal is to be US president or a city councilperson, here are four concrete steps you can take to be on the path to a political career.
- Get Involved in a Local Political Party. In local political parties, you will meet current elected officials and others interested in elections. The best way to get involved is to volunteer. Volunteer work will introduce you to campaigns, fundraising, and issues. Offer to lead or assist with a party project. These organizations flourish with such work, and it’s noticed by other party activists. Also, when unexpected vacancies occur in an elected office (e.g., a retirement or resignation), it’s sometimes the party officials who fill the vacancy. If you are known to these party officials, you may be appointed to office as the start of your political career.
- Work on a Campaign. Find candidates who reflect your values and volunteer to work on their campaigns. Direct campaign work is invaluable for when you decide to run in the future. You will get direct experience in door-to-door campaigning, debates, fundraising, media statements, issues research, polling, social media strategies, campaign materials, and professional campaign staff. You will experience the “ups and downs” of a race, how a race is won, and learn from mistakes.
- Host a Fundraiser for a Candidate. In large races and even most small races, money is a key ingredient. Host a fundraiser for a candidate you support. This will serve you well in three ways. First, the candidate you support will become a loyal ally. Few people enjoy raising campaign funds. When another person raises funds for them, that’s not forgotten. Second, other candidates and community activists will notice. Third, when you need to raise money for your own campaign, you will already have experience in how a fundraiser is organized and executed, including how reports are filed and what restrictions apply.
- Run for Office. Start small. A seat on the city council or school board is a great place to begin. Typically, a smaller district allows you to focus your campaign efforts in a reasonable and effective way. It’s a lot easier for your first race to be in one district rather than countywide or an even larger region. In a smaller district, shoe leather can win the race. Voters appreciate meeting the candidate and hearing from them directly on their doorstep. If the district is a reasonable size, you should strive to meet with each fidelity voter (high-voting individual) twice. These doorstep meetings can solidify votes for you in ways that media ads and campaign mailings cannot rival. It’s necessary to have a media presence, yard signs, and the like, but positive door-to-door conversations between you and the voter are far and away the best. After you are established as a local elected official, it’s much easier to run for higher office.
Get started. You and your community will be glad you did.