While there are pros and cons to either career, one thing is for sure: Between them, some spend some $160,000 on legal fees a year. And many more go on and on about how tired they are of politicians spending our money on the benefits of greedy trial lawyers.
Roughly 1.4 million lawyers exist in the U.S., but those in the executive, executive-to-be, and law enforcement branches make between $125,000 and $140,000 a year. Meanwhile, the average teacher makes $55,000 a year in the private sector.
They're not working for free. But they do have a tendency to keep making more as time goes on.
The story of California Republican Congressman Jeff Denham, to wit, is the impetus for a new documentary called Battle for the Judiciary, which premieres on the Roku streaming service January 10th.
Until a few years ago, Denham worked in the import and export business, but his major break came when he took a job as an agriculture attorney for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
"I realized my technical knowledge was in agriculture and my law background was in the regulatory arena," Denham told Business Insider. "The core of this story is about those two paths."
Years passed, and Denham kept heading down a path to becoming an expert in water rights. And so, this September, he became a justice on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
For someone who simply made a huge salary in a minor industry, there's a lot of nuance that comes with it. Like when he had to make a salary decision that would compromise his career progression.
"I had the choice to get an at-will contract and become a judge at age 42 or to accept a lifetime tenure on the bench," Denham told Business Insider. "It was a hard choice to make, but the executive and legislative branches would like for me to put our country through what some call 'rationalism,' in which all judicial rulings are seen as implementing a master plan and driving the judicial branch less toward fairness than a predetermined preordained outcome."
It is this sense of perverse motivation that fuels so much discontent among the public with political representation. It's something to consider as the next Congress is set to take up legal issues affecting the majority of Americans, namely how much money those in office can personally take in.
Plus, it comes back to the recent 'Chinese firing squad' ruling that found that Warren M. Buffet owned the biggest weight of the government. A decision that makes it all the more apt to wonder whether our government is beholden to an oligarchy of the most well-connected people.
We have seen the government work to protect the status quo as much as it has been reined in. Take Rep. Joe Kennedy, who seems to be aligning himself with the new organization Protect Our Democracy.
"This current Republican regime, both in the House and Senate, has almost no change in their ideology," he told NPR. "In some respects, for most of them, they’re pretty much the same people that’s been in office since January 2017."
But if there's a critique of those in power, it's that they got there by playing both sides, getting rich doing it, and seeing how long they could keep everyone waiting.
And then there's the case of the California teacher.
"Joe Cramer [on Law.com] writes that one teacher will bring in $40,000 a year," said Denham. "So my salary could equal 10 teacher's salaries. That makes me feel bad."
Unlike many with better-paying professions, those in the judicial branch don't sit idly by. Indeed, the judicial branch is expected to uphold laws the rest of us aren't quite familiar with. Denham recalled the time he was ill-advised to take two days off from work in order to be at his brother's wedding.
When he got back to work, someone told him the judges were sick, and that his absence was critical in the matter. Turns out, the argument wasn't entirely true.
The story of Denham speaks to the value of adversarial positions, and the importance of paid leave.
"There’s always risk involved with commitment, commitment that requires a lot of resources," he said. "It’s so important we have someone who can lead and protect us, and be willing to take a risk for the public good."