Legal profession is a profession, and legal professionals study, develop and apply law. Usually, there is a requirement for someone choosing a career in law to first obtain a law degree or some other form of legal education.
It is difficult to generalize about the structure of the profession, because
- there are two major legal systems, and even within them, there are different arrangements in jurisdictions, and
- terminology varies greatly.
While in civil law countries there are usually distinct clearly defined career paths in law, such as judge, in common law jurisdictions there tends to be one legal profession, and it is not uncommon, for instance, that a requirement for a judge is several years of practising law privately.
Historically, this has been the first legal specialization. In civil law countries, this is often a lifelong career. In common law legal system, on the other hand, judges are recruited from practicing lawyers.
Lawyer, advocate, attorney
Practising law means advising and representing clients as a private practitioner or in a law firm. In most countries, law graduates need to undergo some sort of apprenticeship, membership in a professional organization and a licence.
The name for this profession is lawyer or attorney in most of English-speaking world, and advocate in many other countries.
In civil law countries, but also some common law jurisdictions there is one Law society for all lawyers who want to provide services to the public. But in the United Kingdom and some of its former colonies, there are two quite separate kinds of lawyers providing legal services to the public.
Solicitors advise clients, draft contracts for them and represent them in lower courts of law.
Barristers, also called counsels, are court specialists, who traditionally do not come into contact with their lay clients, but are instructed by solicitors. There is only about a 10% of barristers in most common law jurisdictions.
People, who study, organize, teach, and through that also create law, often working at universities, are called jurists. In civil law countries, their role is greater, because they draft codes, which are major laws that govern whole areas of law. In common law countries, the creation and interpretation of law has traditionally been the domain of judges.
A paralegal or legal assistant, according to one definition, is "a person, qualified by education, training or work experience who is employed or retained by a lawyer, law office, corporation, governmental agency or other entity and who performs specifically delegated substantive legal work for which a lawyer is responsible.”
- "Current ABA Definition of Legal Assistant/Paralegal," American Bar Ass'n, at .