JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- The public perception, according to Missouri Bar president Bill Corrigan, is that the ranks of the Missouri Legislature are dominated by lawyers. The reality is quite to the contrary.
Slightly more than 13 percent of the 197 people currently serving in the legislature are lawyers, down from 26 percent 30 years ago and 38 percent a century ago. The steady decline in the number of lawyers serving has prompted the bar to actively recruit more of its members to run for the Senate and House of Representatives this year.
While Corrigan said it is important to have legislators of diverse professional and personal backgrounds, the bar believes lawyers make critical contributions to the process.
"We think lawyers offer very important and unique perspectives to ensure the laws that are drafted are clear, constitutional and do not have unintended consequences," Corrigan said.
At present there are 26 lawyers in the legislature -- five senators and 21 representatives. The number of lawyers in the Senate is at an all-time low.
Forty-three lawyers, including incumbents seeking re-election and House members looking to move to the Senate, are running for the legislature this year. Ten lawyers are running for the Senate and 33 for the House. Another lawyer, state Sen. Matt Bartle, R-Lee's Summit, is midway through a four-year term and will return next year.
Corrigan said the bar's recruitment effort yielded more candidates than he had expected.
Lawyers serve as an important resource to other legislators, Corrigan said. In the days before term limits, nonlawyer legislators over time often developed a command of the law that could rival that of those with formal legal training. Term limits swept the House nearly clean of those veterans two years ago and the final group of longtime senators are being forced out this year.
"I think the advent of term limits has made it more important to have more lawyers in the legislature," Corrigan said.
Former prosecutor Scott Lipke, who is a Republican state representative from Jackson, said having a legal background can be a strong attribute for a lawmakers, but so is first-hand knowledge of other issues such as agriculture or education.
"I think it is important to have a good cross section of people," Lipke said. "But there is a great deal of importance in the drafting of legislation. Where a comma goes can change the entire meaning of a bill, and having legal training can help."