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The legal profession is based on expertise in the law and its applications.

More precise definitions might apply from country to country, as they may differ from one nation to another and have changed over time.

It is difficult to generalize about the structure of the legal professions because there are multiple legal systems (civil law, common law, customary law, religious law, and hybrid or mixed systems), and because the arrangements differ from state to state, and from country to country. Even where two countries have similar legal structures, the terminology is likely to vary. For example, in most countries, religious law wouldn't be considered part of the legal professions, but, in some countries, religious laws and institutions serve as the primary law.

While reasonable arguments can be made over whether some of these titles or positions are or are not part of the legal professions, we might consider them to include arbitrators, attorneys (advocates, barristers, counselors, court advocates, court messengers, court transcriptionists, judges (justices), jurists, lawyers), jury consultants, justices of the peace, legal analysts, legal services directors, litigation docket magistrates, managers, mediators, paralegals, and probably some others. Of course, many of these positions will be known by other names in various countries, some of which may have equivalent positions.

Usually, there is a requirement for someone in the legal profession to first obtain a law degree or another form of legal education. In some jurisdictions, even court transcriptionists are required to have some legal training. However, in some jurisdictions, justices of the peace are elected by the public, and no specific educational requirements are in place.

The US legal system, and other legal systems that originate from British rule, is a common law system. Originally, the term referred to laws defined by judges to fill in the gaps where there was no written law. Judges reviewed prior decisions to determine and apply the unwritten judge-made law to new cases.

However, most laws are in writing today and enacted by a legislature as statutes. Statutes frequently codify established common law, change it, or abolish it altogether.

For example, both Maine and Massachusetts have what is called a Great Ponds Act, which allows members of the public to walk on unimproved private lands in order to access a lake or pond that is at least ten acres in size. Now codified, this law is based on colonial and English common law.

Most countries in Europe and South America use a civil law system, which relies on comprehensive legal codes containing all of the laws for the country, with case law (judicial decisions) being secondary to these codes. Decisions are binding only on the parties to the case, and cannot be used as a precedent for later cases.

As the name implies, religious law uses religious texts as a basis, and the courts interpret the present facts and statutes in light of these texts. Several countries in the Middle East use religious law for all or part of their judicial system.

Customary law systems are based on long-standing traditions within a particular community. These traditions are so ingrained in society that the courts recognize them as enforceable laws. Andorra, a country in the Pyrenees, relies in part on customary law. In Andorra, sources of customary law include canon law, the ecclesiastical law of the Catholic Church, Castilian law, French law, and Roman law. Guernsey, one of the Chamber Islands, also has a customary law system. Situated off the coast of England and France, Guernsey is not part of the United Kingdom. Its legal system is derived from the medieval power of the monarch, the Duke of Normandy. Its legal system also had elements of English common law and modern statutory law, and many issues are determined according to ancient customary laws.

Most jurisdictions, today, use hybrid or mixed legal systems that incorporate common, civil, religious, and customary systems. Louisiana, for example, uses some common law, but it also has a civil law system for much of its state legal procedures originating from when it was under French rule. On recognized tribal lands in the United States, customary laws of the tribe may be used rather than state or federal laws, although the tribes do not have full autonomy. The Philippines uses French civil law, US-style common law, Sharia law, and indigenous customary law. Similarly, many African countries utilize parallel tribal or ethnic legal systems to adjudicate family law matters.

Online resources pertaining to the legal professions on a large scale are appropriate for this category, although those pertaining only to specific states or local jurisdictions should be listed in the corresponding categories within the Local & Global section of this guide.


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