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BigLaw Political Donations:

It might not be a surprise that major law firm donations largely mirror those of law professors, and are weighted heavily toward Barack Obama (albeit not as heavily as lawprof donations), as Bruce Batista summarizes here. Why is this? Batista has his own ideas, and I'd be curious about others.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Law Firm Campaign Contributions Increase:
  2. BigLaw Political Donations:
Glenn W. Bowen (mail):
because of tort cases and rampant radical leftism?
9.10.2008 7:47pm
Constantin:
All of the above, plus they think Obama's going to win and want access.
9.10.2008 7:52pm
Allan (mail):
Could it be that most highly educated people agree with Obama, are aghast at Bush's policies, and are afraid that McCain will continue on the same path as Bush?

Let's face it. Most people seem not to like Bush's performance. A main reason they are voting for McCain is that there is an irrational fear of an Obama presidency. Sure, there are those who actually favor McCain's plans for the wars, his vow to appoint justices who will overturn Roe v. Wade, and his tax policies. And then there are those who think Bush has done a bang-up job. I submit that those people are few and far between.
9.10.2008 7:58pm
Tareeq (www):
Self-interest. Tort reform and / or less regulation may be good for the client, but it's bad for the client's lawyers.

Less cynically, you can take the lawyer out of Harvard, but you can't take Harvard out of the lawyer. The guilt gnaws.
9.10.2008 7:59pm
Oren:
Somehow when it involves your political opponents, honest differences in policy preferences is never a reasonable explanation.

To answer your question JA, I'm going to vote that lawyers approve of his policy preferences.
9.10.2008 8:01pm
Hoosier:
Or perhaps it's the arrogance of people like Allan?


But to give his post more serious treatment than it may deserve, can anyone tell us whether this is much different from previous elections? If this is par for the course, then the only-stoopid-peeple-like-Bush argument can be dismissed. If not . . . well, we still have many more questions to ask.
9.10.2008 8:03pm
Tareeq (www):
Plus, as Allan points out, smart eddicated people agree that Obama is smart and eddicated. Therefore, they donate to Obama.
9.10.2008 8:03pm
Big E:
This isn't rocket science, they think Obama is going to win so they want to be on his good side.
9.10.2008 8:07pm
Hoosier:
Tareeq

I liked your post so much that I accidentally stabbed my uvula with a fountain pen. Again.
9.10.2008 8:16pm
Matt_T:
A main reason they are voting for McCain is that there is an irrational fear of an Obama presidency.

No more irrational than the majority of exuberance in reaction to Obama's candidacy.
9.10.2008 8:26pm
nc3274:
Uh, as a partner in one of these "major law firms" I think everyone's overthinking this A LOT. Barack Obama has 500+ HLS classmates, as well as people before and after him. He was clearly high profile, as he was elected president of HLR. Further, he taught for several years at the U of C and was both popular and engaged with students there, maintaining a lot of those relationships. I have many colleagues who know him. I knew him casually way back when. By any reasonable measure, we all make a lot of money.

In short, it's the network. Go to Harvard and teach at Chicago and you will meet and befriend a lot of lawyers. Those lawyers tend to know other lawyers. You fundraise from your friends. Not complicated.
9.10.2008 8:32pm
byomtov (mail):
Most of these firms are in places that are hardly strongholds of the Republican Party. Do NYC lawyers contribute disproportionately more to Obama than other New Yorkers?

Batista is doing an awful lot of sneering without a lot of data. My guess is taht lawyers contribute for the same set of reasons other people do - a mix of policy preference, acquaintance (as suggested by nc3274), economic self-interest, etc.
9.10.2008 8:50pm
Daniel Chapman (mail):
It's not the network... they all donated to Kerry too.
9.10.2008 8:51pm
Anony:
Just an FYI: every time I click on that Bruce Batista blog link, my (biglaw) computer software pops up with a virus alert for some sort of a trojan virus.
9.10.2008 8:58pm
DCH (www):
Self-interest is a very simple explanation, although I am not sure how much weight that holds — keep in mind that Obama's tax plans would harm Biglaw salaries (as ATL demonstrates). And thus works directly against individual interests. While the changes in tax law may or may not usher in another "golden age of litigation", they will certainly and immediately harm the finances of individuals.

Other explanations:

1. Obama is a lawyer and thus other lawyers believe he will further the interests of lawyers or they are narcissistic and want to see a lawyer elected to office. He also has a lawyer as a VP. As lawyers spend a significant amount of time advising clients who may or may not listen to their advice, electing a lawyer as president is essentially the fulfillment of a wish to "steer the boat".

2. Trojan Horse. So many lawyers have invested in Obama already that he will be forced to recognize lawyers as a critical constituancy, in short, every donation further obligates Obama to lawyers. His VP choice may reflect this. The more lawyers donate the more likely they are going to be considered as stakeholders and so the more they will be represented when it comes time to push policy.

3. Bias in Law. Perhaps the practice of law itself has a bias which promotes support of Obama's policies (or rather, perceived policies). As attorneys are increasingly exposed to the areas where the system does not work and problems do not resolve themselves, the desire for reform of anykind becomes more and more appealing. Alternatively, it may be a result of cynicism or desensitivity after overexposure to systemic failure and continuously witnessing cases.

4. Bandwagon effect. All the other law firms are doing it. Might as well invest more than the others and get knocked up to the top spot when stories are running about it.

5. Demographics. Perhaps this is all due to a lurking variable and lawyers just happen to all be in the same demographic as that lurking variable.

That pretty much sums up all my ideas on the topic that have any sort of rational basis.
9.10.2008 8:58pm
trad and anon:
This isn't particularly surprising, I think. People with graduate degrees trend Democratic by an enormous margin. Biglaw attorneys also tend to live in large urban areas, and city-dwellers trend Democratic.

As for those talking about tort litigation, tort cases are a tiny fraction of biglaw business, so that's not much of an explanation.
9.10.2008 9:05pm
trad and anon:
The stuff about Obama being a lawyer/former law professor is bogus. Lawyers, including biglaw lawyers, have been disproportionately Democratic for quite some time. There's nothing new here.
9.10.2008 9:09pm
Sam H (mail):
Lawyers, like teachers, vote Democratic because that is who feeds them.

"Could it be that most highly educated people agree with Obama..."

Since when are lawyers considered highly educated? Then spend many years in school, but studying a very narrow subject.
9.10.2008 9:19pm
paul lukasiak (mail):
Big law firms represent big clients. Big clients want lawyers with access to people in power in DC. So big law firms buy access for their clients.

Barista's numbers are 'to date' -- and the candidate that everyone originally expected to win, Hillary Clinton, raked in 18 million from these lawyers. The fact that Obama has a "mere" 22 million suggests that he's been playing catch-up, and finally caught up. (it would be interesting to see the 2007 data alone).
9.10.2008 9:20pm
Nunzio:
If McCain wins, what happens to Big Law?

Does he retaliate by making summer associate salaries and lunches non-deductible? Does he institute a partnership tax for businesses with more than 100 partners that are not accounting firms?

As one of the Big Law a$$holes, I vote self-interest here. More Dems, mean more laws, mean more regulation for business mean more money for lawyers. They'd rather pay Obama's higher tax rate on $2 million than McCain's lower tax rate on $1.3 million.
9.10.2008 9:46pm
wooga:
People who work at big firms tend to be enormously arrogant pricks. Like most arrogant pricks, they think the common man is a moron, and needs to be led around by the nose "for their own good." They assume they are right on everything, and everyone who disagrees with them is either stupid and/or evil. There is no possibility of legitimate rational disagreement with the messiah! Allan's post is a prime example of this thinking.

For people of this mindset, collectivism/statism is the preferred form of government. So they will of course support the most openly collectivist candidate in recent memory.

Plus, they abhor guns in the hands of the commoner (although not quite to the degree of the AMA), so they absolutely despise Sarah Palin.
9.10.2008 9:48pm
John (mail):
The reasons people are giving are largely wrong, I think. The reason for the support is a simple tribal concept--"one of us" vs. "the other." Obama comes across as an intellectual, and the well educated mini-mass of biglaw partners see that as "one of us." It has nothing to do with rational thinking, except perhaps at the margin.
9.10.2008 9:50pm
Cornellian (mail):
People who work at big firms tend to be enormously arrogant pricks. Like most arrogant pricks, they think the common man is a moron, and needs to be led around by the nose "for their own good." They assume they are right on everything, and everyone who disagrees with them is either stupid and/or evil.

Whereas you, on the other hand, carefully consider arguments on their merits, give everyone the benefit of the doubt and never rush to attribute policy differences to bad faith on the part of people who disagree with you.
9.10.2008 9:59pm
Sally:
Maybe more conservative lawyers spend their discretionary incomes on non-political causes, their churches, charities, etc. One would have to see those numbers I think. But it could be that attorneys who support the Democrats don't give a whole lot of money to anything else.
9.10.2008 10:00pm
trad and anon:
As one of the Big Law a$$holes, I vote self-interest here. More Dems, mean more laws, mean more regulation for business mean more money for lawyers. They'd rather pay Obama's higher tax rate on $2 million than McCain's lower tax rate on $1.3 million.
A Democratic administration produces a 53% increase in biglaw compensation? Color me skeptical.

I'd guess that what's in the financial interest of biglaw is less a Democratic administration than having the President and the Congress be of the same party. Republicans don't produce less regulation so much as different (more pro-business) regulation. The GOP talks the talk on free markets but they don't walk the walk.

I think most of the explanation is that the sort of people who are inclined to go to law school in the first place are more likely to be Democrats. Biglaw attorneys included.
9.10.2008 10:03pm
Cornellian (mail):
As one of the Big Law a$$holes, I vote self-interest here. More Dems, mean more laws, mean more regulation for business mean more money for lawyers.

I didn't notice any particular reduction in regulation while the Republicans controlled both the White House and Congress. Apparently, Republicans believe in less regulation the way they believe in reducing governing spending.

I think BigLaw lawyers are donating to Obama for the same reasons that evangelicals are (presumably) going to donate to Palin - they see him as "one of us." Also, to the extent BigLaw partners are conservative, they tend to be economically conservative, not socially conservative and the Republicans haven't given many reasons for the former group to vote for them lately.
9.10.2008 10:03pm
wm13:
Didn't Obama relinquish public financing and thus he is forced to fund raise heavily from every element of the public? Obviously he took the bet because he thought he would win, but won't this mean that he is likely to raise more money from almost every demographic group, whereas McCain is focusing his energies on tasks other than fund raising, because he has public money?
9.10.2008 10:05pm
hawkins:

Since when are lawyers considered highly educated? Then spend many years in school, but studying a very narrow subject.


Who would you consider highly educated?
9.10.2008 10:06pm
hawkins:
Urban area + graduate degree = (most likely a) democrat
9.10.2008 10:06pm
AKD:
Because the secret lawyer hive mind says to.
9.10.2008 10:13pm
Ak Mike (mail):
I think that lawyers tend to see the world in terms of the law, and see social problems as essentially legal problems. Thus problems in education are solved through laws mandating, e.g., special ed.; racial disparities are addressed through anti-discrimination laws, etc., etc.

Lawyers believe in regulation, and also profit from it. A lot of what biglaw does has to do with regulatory matters. Their worldview is compatible with the essential Democratic perspective that government can solve all social ills.

Although as a functional matter Republicans elected to office also seem to take this tack, it is not the essential Republican perspective. This resistance (theoretical though it may be) to government/legal responses to every possible issue is at odds with how, these days, lawyers think.
9.10.2008 10:14pm
Malvolio:
Could it be that most highly educated people agree with Obama, are aghast at Bush's policies, and are afraid that McCain will continue on the same path as Bush?
It could be. It isn't, but it could be.
Let's face it. Most people seem not to like Bush's performance. A main reason they are voting for McCain is that there is an irrational fear of an Obama presidency.
Could this be parody? Is Allan doing an unsubtle satire of how conservatives think that liberals think, a la The New Yorker? I hope so.
9.10.2008 10:18pm
theobromophile (www):
Well, there pipeline to law firms - big, small, urban, rural - is largely liberal. On the whole, law students are liberal, law profs are liberal, and lawyers are liberal.

I do think some of it has to do with the idea of wealth making v. wealth transfer. Few attorneys seem to care whether they are cutting up preexisting pie, or helping to generate more pie; few people to law school asking where their salaries will be coming from.
9.10.2008 10:39pm
frankcross (mail):
Theo, that's wrong. The vast majority of lawyers do transactional work where they are openly trying to generate more pie.

I think it is because they are liberalterians, for the most part. Very pro-freedom on social issues, frightened of the religious right, etc. Might well prefer Republicans if it were only on economic issues, but a certain elitist disdain for middle Americna cultural concerns.
9.10.2008 10:59pm
byomtov (mail):
This thread is utterly amazing. Virtually everyone, including JA, thinks that lawyers' donations to political campaigns are some sort of strange phenomenon that need to be"explained."

Yet we have not one iota of data that suggests that these lawyers differ in their political contributions from other, similar, individuals.

In other words, we have no reason to believe that there is anything to explain. Yet everyone jumps in with their favorite hobbyhorses.

On the assumption that most commenters are lawyers, I have to ask what they teach in law school.
9.10.2008 11:10pm
nc3274:
Do people really believe this nonsense? A few observations, in increasing order of significance:

(1) This piece was about major law firms, not lawyers generally. Lawyer contributions to Kerry and Gore were high, but Biglaw-specific contributions were not nearly as disproportionate as they are this year. Remember Kerry's running mate--that network produced a lot of his contributions.

(2) The affinity point is certainly right (Obama--he's just like us!) and is correlated with the social aspects of donating. Urban professionals lean Dem. However, this tends to balance out with seniority.

(3) More generally, fundraising for individual candidates is very social. I contribute when people I know well ask me to--often to people with beliefs very different from mine. These fundraising events are like elite law school reunion meets society party. People go to see people, be seen, and because it's socially and professionally beneficial to extend the network.

(4) The idea that $2300 is going to influence policy is silly. As much as people find it hard to believe, individual contributors at the legal limit do it because (in no particular order) (a) they believe in the candidate, (b) they want to enhanfor their own social status or (c) for enhancing professional networks/generating business from other contributors. Nobody is trying to influence the law. That's what the government relations practice is for.

(5) The idea that a Dem v. Rep. administration materially affects large law firm profitability is even more silly. Large law firm profitability depends primarily on the capital and transactional markets (because finance and corporate are the most volatile practices) and secondarily on general economic conditions (which affects appetite for profitable commercial litigation). That's why this year is lousy. Legal complexity or more/less regulation is completely irrelevant. A large law firm with profitability that turned on the results of an election would be a very poorly run law firm.
9.10.2008 11:35pm
Lady on the Left:

Lawyers, like teachers, vote Democratic because that is who feeds them.

"Could it be that most highly educated people agree with Obama..."

Since when are lawyers considered highly educated? Then spend many years in school, but studying a very narrow subject.


One can argue that teachers are "fed" by the Democrats because the teachers' unions have a very strong connection to the Democratic party, but I'm not sure how the Dems "feed" Biglaw. I'm pretty sure that private corporations feed Biglaw.

People with seven years of higher education are generally considered highly educated no matter how narrow the subject matter, and the law is actually a very broad subject. Think about it: the Biglaw guy doing mergers &acquisitions, the tax guy helping you through your audit, the public defender arguing about illegal searches &seizures in a drug case, the legal aid guy working in landlord-tenant court, the JAG officer working with the military code, the estates guy writing up your will...the law is a ridiculously broad subject, actually. Ask anyone who's taken the bar exam.
9.10.2008 11:46pm
Nunzio:
Obama and his wife wisely shunned a career in BigLaw. I'm going to give him a donation out of respect for his wisdom.
9.10.2008 11:56pm
Eli Rabett (www):
Less fruitful than picking your toes and a lot less fun
9.11.2008 12:06am
jccamp (mail):
I'll go with the article's author:
Biglaw firms are generally liberal.

Biglaw firms' lawyers are often from the same circle of elite law schools as Sen. O.

Biglaw firms would prefer the litigation &regulation friendly Democrats, (especially the V-P choice - me, not the author).

and I'd add the last - repeated several times here - for some time, Sen. O looked like a slam-dunk winner. So, large donations do equate with access - to some degree.

I did check a few of the listed firms' web sites for what they represent as their practice and strengths. At least one lists "Climate change" litigation as a speciality...hardly mainstream Republican stuff, that.

If those science-type guys in France turn us into a Black Hole, they're gonna get the pants sued off them.
9.11.2008 12:12am
Justin (mail):
It's for the same reason academia goes liberal. Because the conservative persecution complex myth is a big lie - instead, a VERY high percentage of the top law school students (who go on to become biglaw associates, partners, and law professors) are democrats that range from centrist to liberal.
9.11.2008 12:17am
theobromophile (www):
Theo, that's wrong. The vast majority of lawyers do transactional work where they are openly trying to generate more pie.

Frankcross - I don't think you can get from the fact that they do transactional work to the fact that they 1) want to do transactional work, 2) want to produce more pie, and 3) are doing so "openly" and with a stated purpose, all of which would have to be true for your statement to hold.

First of all, at big firms, there is a definite hierarchy. At the top, we find litigators. At the bottom, we find patent attorneys. Now, the attorneys in between are the transactional types, but shouldn't that at least tell you something? The ethic at many law firms is to make money - for the attorneys. The fact that it may come from productive or unproductive ends is beside the point.
9.11.2008 12:25am
hawkins:

First of all, at big firms, there is a definite hierarchy. At the top, we find litigators. At the bottom, we find patent attorneys. Now, the attorneys in between are the transactional types


Really? I never understood it to be that way.
9.11.2008 12:35am
jccamp (mail):
Hoosier,

...and yes, I had to look up "uvula." But then, i was at Zahm, which probably tells you all you need to know...
9.11.2008 12:35am
Houston Lawyer:
Lawyers, like other businessmen, like to back winners. The founder of my firm was one of the Rangers for Bush. I know very liberal partners who were strong armed to donate to the Bush campaign. This year, the push was for money to Obama.

My understanding of big law is that the top eschelon is made up of transactional lawyers. Sure, they have good litigators, but litigators create conflicts with potential clients. Most high power litigators I am aware of are in boutique firms, where they can sue anyone without costing the firm transactional work.

Bad laws are bad for business. Most lawyers oppose bad laws even if they would help the legal business. However, we don't cry in our beer about bad laws, because they may help our pocketbooks.
9.11.2008 12:50am
Sarcastro (www):
People who do not donate to the candidate I like are doing so because they are elitist and love being on either side of a bribery transaction. Also they are elitist.

People who donate to the candidate I like are doing so out of enlightened idealism.
9.11.2008 10:30am
Calderon:
In my opinion, Batista basically has it right; it's a combination of preferences and self-interest. On the self-interest point, more laws means more suits means more attorneys billings means more money in the pockets of partners, even if they have to pay higher taxes (though I wonder if Obama had been wedded to a completely uncapped, full social security tax what the donations would look like). This is true for both litigation and transactional -- for the latter, more laws mean more due diligence and opinions that need to be written, as well as more areas to research to make sure the agreement or one of the parties aren't running afoul of the law.

And then on preferences I basically agree with Ak Mike. I remember from college one of my liberal professors was counseling an equally liberal student not to go to law school. The professor's argument was that law school narrows your perspective so that you see all problems in terms of how can they be solved by laws, rather than thinking outside the box. This carries over to a lot of attorneys so that, on average, when they see a problem they're more likely to think of solving it through additional laws than some other means.
9.11.2008 10:47am
Justin (mail):
I think a lot of people are forgetting that the vast majority of Obama's donations are coming in small bills. That is, they are coming from PEOPLE, who don't really expect much in return. Or from people who are friends with people who all they want is a job.

I bet 75% of that Obama money is coming from associates. I know a quiick look at my biglaw firm (which is somewhat conservative, at least amongst the partnership, to be fair), over 75% (close to 85%) of Obama's donations are coming from associates, and a lot of the partners that donated are fairly junior, with only a few maxing out.
9.11.2008 11:34am
Ben P (mail):

Could this be parody? Is Allan doing an unsubtle satire of how conservatives think that liberals think, a la The New Yorker? I hope so.


I love how the "subtle parody" gets mocked, but the blatant "Liberals support Obama because they're all elitist assholes that think they're better than us." Argument passes untouched.
9.11.2008 11:49am
ejo:
Allan pushes the conceit of the higher intelligence of Dems. after all, we know that Kerry was a man of vast intelligence, at least until we learned that his grades were worse than George Bush's were.
9.11.2008 12:01pm
PLR:
Could it be that most highly educated people agree with Obama, are aghast at Bush's policies, and are afraid that McCain will continue on the same path as Bush?

I would say that's highly plausible.
Allan pushes the conceit of the higher intelligence of Dems. after all, we know that Kerry was a man of vast intelligence, at least until we learned that his grades were worse than George Bush's were.

ejo, please note that Allan's post says nothing about Dems at all.
9.11.2008 12:40pm
trad and anon:
Could it be that most highly educated people agree with Obama, are aghast at Bush's policies, and are afraid that McCain will continue on the same path as Bush?
I would say that's highly plausible.
It certainly is. People with graduate degrees (and they've sure had lots of education!) tend to be Democrats by a large margin. Democrats tend to agree with Obama, be aghast at Bush's policies, and be afraid that McCain will continue those policies. I don't think the educations can really be explanatory though. Degrees in education, medicine, nursing, English literature, or physics don't really do anything to help you judge the merits of the Iraq War or lower taxes on the rich. A law degree doesn't do much to help you with that either. Seems to me that the people who go to grad school are probably already inclined to be Democrats.
People who do not donate to the candidate I like are doing so because they are elitist and love being on either side of a bribery transaction. Also they are elitist.

People who donate to the candidate I like are doing so out of enlightened idealism.
No, Sarcastro. People who do not donate to the candidate I like are doing so because they are elitist and love being on either side of a bribery transaction, while people who donate to the candidate I like are doing so out of enlightened idealism.
9.11.2008 12:55pm
wooga:

Whereas you, on the other hand, carefully consider arguments on their merits, give everyone the benefit of the doubt and never rush to attribute policy differences to bad faith on the part of people who disagree with you.

Cornellian,
I rarely attribute bad faith to people who disagree with me. Nor do I assume they are stupid. For example, Obama is not stupid, and he honestly believes, in good faith, that a collectivist approach is good. Calling someone an "arrogant prick" who thinks the common man is a moron - as I do of big law firm people and Obama - says NOTHING about the "good faith" or "intelligence" of those people. What orifice did you pull that theory out of? (BTW, this post is actually one that qualifies as being arrogantly dismissive of your position)

But thanks for completely ignoring my theory, and throwing up a blindingly off target tu quoque attack!
9.11.2008 5:33pm
mel (mail):
This discussion would all be much more well-informed if we knew how these contribution levels compared to those in prior elections.

If the Democratic "Big Law" advantage was as strong in prior elections as in this one, clearly their advantage would somehow be ideological.

On the other hand, if Obama is doing much better than Gore or Kerry, there's something personal about Obama - maybe the fact that he was an accomplished lawyer.

Bottom line: all the other comments are silly because based on incomplete information. Give me more data and we can have a smarter argument.
9.11.2008 6:22pm
Bpbatista (mail):
Mel, Obama may be many things, but "accomplished lawyer" is not one of them.

According to OpenSecrets.org, in 2004, John Kerry received $22.5 million from lawyers and law firms. George W. Bush received $11.5 million.

Figures for 2000 are not yet available.
9.11.2008 10:41pm
Bpbatista (mail):
The post has now been updated with total lawyer and law firm donations back to 1992. They overwhelmingly favor Democrats by about 70% to 30%. That's a pretty strong bias over 25 years.
9.11.2008 10:56pm
PLR:
The post has now been updated with total lawyer and law firm donations back to 1992. They overwhelmingly favor Democrats by about 70% to 30%. That's a pretty strong bias over 25 years.

But this topic is about donations from BigLaw, so you'd have to back out from those numbers the donations from "trial lawyers" -- the inaccurate public moniker referring to the plaintiffs' bar.
9.12.2008 5:57pm