The former North Carolina senator and 2004 vice presidential nominee wrote in an essay at age 11 that he wanted to "protect innocent people" from what he called "blind justice," meaning injustice. As a personal injury lawyer, he won landmark victories for victims of medical mistakes and faulty products, including $25 million for a little girl who was disemboweled by a swimming pool drain.
In his second presidential bid, Edwards often cites his legal experience as evidence that he is best suited to wrest power from "big insurance companies, big drug companies, big oil companies."
"I have been standing up to these people my entire life," Edwards said in the CNN/YouTube debate in July. "I have been fighting them my entire life in courtrooms — and beating them."
The Republican most identified with the law so far is Thompson, a trial lawyer, former federal prosecutor, former counsel to Senate committees on Watergate, foreign relations and intelligence, former Tennessee senator and fictional Manhattan District Attorney Arthur Branch on NBC's Law & Order.
Laying groundwork for his formal entry into the race today, Thompson has offered opinions on many legal issues: the deterrent effect of the death penalty, the rights of localities to pass laws on illegal immigration, eminent domain rulings that threaten Americans' "right of ownership" and New York gun laws that he says infringe on the Second Amendment.
"As an idealistic teen-ager, I could think of nothing more inspiring than the notion of representing a just cause against the most powerful forces in the country, including the government," Thompson said on his website.
'Making people's lives better'
Obama spent three years after college helping a low-income Chicago community cope with plant shutdowns. He left for law school because "I wanted to understand how the law should work for those in need," he said in February. He became the first African-American president of the Harvard Law Review, and then returned to Chicago to practice civil rights law and teach constitutional law.
That choice is now highlighted in an Obama TV ad as a key to his character. "It was inspiring, absolutely inspiring to see someone as brilliant as Barack Obama, as successful, someone who could've written his ticket on Wall Street, take all of the talent and all of the learning and decide to devote it to the community and to making people's lives better," one of his professors, Laurence Tribe, says in the ad.
Bill Clinton often talks about his wife's legal work for children and the poor. After law school, he says in a video, "She turned down all the lucrative job offers and instead took a job at the Children's Defense Fund because she wanted to help poor children."
By 1977, Hillary Clinton was a corporate litigator at the Rose Law Firm in Little Rock. She spent 25 years there as her family's main breadwinner while her husband rose to the governorship and a top salary of $35,000. National Law Journal twice named her one of the country's 100 most influential lawyers, noting her major clients — such as Maybelline and Tysons Foods — along with her work for the Children's Defense Fund and the Legal Services Corporation.