BYU has one of the largest pre-law student populations of any undergraduate institution in the country, with 305 students from BYU applying to law school last year.
A Kaplan Test Prep survey released earlier this year shows a jump in the percentage of pre-law students interested in politics.
More than half of the approximately 500 students surveyed nationwide between December 2016 and February 2017 said they would consider running for political office. This is up from 38 percent in 2012, the last time Kaplan surveyed on this topic.
Fifty-five senators and 156 members of the House hold law degrees, according to a 2014 Congressional Research Service Report. However, the number of lawyers in politics has decreased over time. Almost 80 percent of Congress members were lawyers in the mid-19th century. This dropped to under 60 percent by the 1960s, and by 2015 the number was below 40 percent, according to the report.
“Law school has long been a bullpen of aspiring politicians, and we think the recent election showed many pre-law students of all political persuasions how important it is to stay involved and stand up for what you believe,” said Jeff Thomas, executive director of pre-law programs at Kaplan Test Prep, in a recent press release.
BYU law school student Sara Jarman is studying law in order to run for political office at some point in the future.
“While you can go into politics through several different routes, I believe that law school helps you understand the intricacies and details of government functions in a way that no other path could,” Jarman said.
Jarman spent the last five years writing a book, “Elephants on the Rampage: The Eclipse of American Conservatism.” The book was based on her 2012 BYU Honors thesis and predicts the ideological collapse of the Republican Party and the rise of a candidate like President Donald Trump.
“Now, more than ever, America needs a revival of engaging, rational and articulate political discussion,” Jarman said. “The law is highly complex, and if I want to help write and pass laws in the future, understanding what the legal landscape looks like now is vital for success in the future.”
J. Reuben Clark Law School grad Candace Andersen has served as the mayor and as a city council member in Danville, California. Andersen raised six children while working as an attorney and community volunteer on the side. She works full-time as a county supervisor now that her children are grown.
“My mantra since law school has been, ‘As a woman I can do it all, but I don’t have to do it all at once,'” Andersen said. “There is a time and a season for everything.”
Andersen said her law degree has provided her with a strong foundation for creating laws and understanding the implications of her decisions.
Andersen said involvement in politics is a fulfilling way to use education, training, talent and experience developed over a lifetime.
“You get to shape the future of your community and make important decisions impacting the quality of life for you and your neighbors,” Andersen said.
BYU political science professor Richard Davis said activists express themselves in different ways, such as participating in rallies, marches and town hall meetings.
“Government affects everyone, whether they pay attention or not,” Davis said. “Learning about politics and government equips a citizen with more information and skills to affect government in turn.”
Davis said a background in law is common for many politicians since legislation is about making laws.
However, many officeholders are not lawyers. Many of America’s former presidents, including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson and Ronald Reagan were not lawyers.
BYU political science student Derek Christensen will attend law school next year at the Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas.
Christensen served as a Utah state delegate for the Republican Party and as a voting booth manager during the election. He said politics is the best platform for presenting ideas.
“I’m more interested in going to law school to think like a lawyer than to be a lawyer,” Christensen said.
Christensen said a degree in law aids in expressing oneself accurately without misrepresenting information and lying to people just to get their approval.
Political complaining — rather than political activism — has increased, according to Christensen. He said polarization has increased and people tend to complain on social media but rarely act on their beliefs or become involved.
“I think the law expands perspective,” Christensen said. “I think it expands the ability to see things from different angles rather than your own, which allows you to address, ‘Well maybe I’m wrong in certain situations, and maybe they’re right.'”