by Alan P. Bayham, Jr. PRESIDENT’S MESSAGE
Where have all the lawyers gone?
I’m talking about at our state capitol.
While there are plenty of lawyers walking
the halls, there are fewer lawyers who are
elected to sit in the two chambers. This year
we have only eight total, in both chambers—down from 11 last session.
Why does it matter? Let’s go back to our
founding fathers. In his recent book,
Revolutionaries: A New History of the
Invention of America, Jack Rakove recog-
nizes that one of the reasons those early
leaders were so successful in creating our
country is that
many of them had studied law. He quotes the
philosopher Edmund Burke, who wrote that
study of the law “renders men acute, inquisi-
tive, dexterous, prompt in attack, ready in
defense, full of resources. … They auger mis-
government at a distance: and snuff the
approach of tyranny in every tainted breeze.”
Justice Sandra Day O’Connor spoke at
this year’s Law School for Legislators event,
hosted by the State Bar at the opening of the
legislative session. Her speech was full of
insight and was a civics lesson to the lawyers,
judges and legislators in attendance. She
pointed out that she had served in all three
branches of government; the Executive
while working as a young Deputy Attorney
General; the Judicial in her role as Judge on
the Superior Court and the Arizona Court of Appeals, and Associate
Justice of the United States Supreme Court; and the Legislative, as an
Arizona State Senator, a job to which she was originally
appointed to fill a vacancy and later ran for election.
Among the many great observations she made was that
legislators have a unique and important job. In their role,
they may examine an issue or problem they are interested in
and write a law to address it or correct the problem. That is
a power reserved for them alone.
I don’t mean to imply that lawyers are the only group
suited for this monumental task. But I do think that having
lawyers in the mix is critical. Their understanding of both
the legal system and the consequences, both intended and
unintended, of any new law is an asset to any group of law-
makers trying to take any concept beyond the idea phase.
Granted, Arizona has never had large numbers of lawyers
in its Legislature. The fewest our state ever had was in 1914,
when we had one, and the greatest number
was 15 in 1934. And in the original chambers of the Arizona Legislature, the lawyers
who executed the Arizona Constitution
equaled the number we have today, for a
total of eight.
But in those days, lawyers were hard to
come by. In our state today, we have more
than 18,000 practicing lawyers, and our
three law schools are graduating students
at an ever-increasing rate. It seems that
one of the most important and valuable
jobs that persons educated in law could
pursue would be
that of legislator.
The reason for
the decline is
hard to determine. Maybe it’s
the time and
effort that must
be devoted to the
job after one is
elected, or maybe
it is the distaste
for standing for
causes lawyers to
shy away from
this job. Perhaps
it is the lack of a
meaningful salary, or just an aversion to
politics that makes the job less attractive
to a lawyer.
How do we change this situation?
Some states have offered CLE courses for
attorneys interested in becoming lawmakers, and our CLE department has been
looking into it, as well. Maybe we just
need to spread the word that more
lawyers are needed to round out the lawmaker mix.
Being a lawmaker isn’t easy. It’s a monumental task that results in more criticism
than compliments. But crafting new laws
is the foundation of our country, and I
respect anyone willing to give it a shot. I
just wish more lawmakers were lawyers. AZ AT
One of the most
important and valuable
jobs that persons
educated in law
could pursue would
be that of legislator.