There are a variety of groups and individuals represented by attorneys in criminal and civil cases. Legal education is divided into primitive, transitional, and modern legal systems. Primitive legal systems are characterized by law creation and administration by tribal leaders; informal decision-making; a lack of court systems and attorneys; and the presentation of cases by orators. Transitional legal systems existed in advanced agrarian and early industrial societies. Transitional legal systems involved the emergence of police, judge, and attorney roles. Attorneys were trained through tutelage and apprenticeships, until law schools began to emerge in the late 1700's and early 1800's. Within modern legal systems, law training became more formal, required a university degree, and bar exam passage. Once these requirements are met, attorneys find employment in a variety of settings.
74% of practicing attorneys are in private practice. The remainder work for government agencies or private industries, are judges or educators, and work for legal aid or public defender systems. There is a trend toward attorneys working in larger law firms. Though the earning potential is appealing, indicating a demand for attorneys, earning varies based upon location, firm size, and field of law.
Local and state prosecutors bring charges against criminal defendants on behalf of the people of the state. These prosecutors receive cases from law enforcement, review cases for legal sufficiency, advise the grand jury, and try criminal cases through all stages of judicial proceedings. The Attorney General handles cases that originate in the District of Columbia and in the Office of Civil Rights. United States Attorneys handle most of the prosecutorial work in federal district courts. They are appointed by the President, confirmed by the Senate, and serve at the pleasure of the President and Attorney General. They are responsible for prosecuting criminal cases brought by the U.S. government; handling civil cases in which the federal government is a party; and collecting administratively uncollectable debts.
Defense attorneys are responsible for client counseling, developing legal strategies, serving as a mediator and negotiator, appraising cases, and promoting justice. Defense attorneys often appear of lower status than other attorneys due to their clientele, reputations, and lower compensation. The 6th Amendment gives criminal defendants the right to counsel in all cases where the possibility of incarceration exists. Methods for selecting criminal defense attorneys include privately retained attorneys, public defenders, voucher systems, assigned counsel, contract systems, legal clinics, and legal aid societies.
There is no evidence that one method of attorney selection is best, and there is little difference in outcome for appointed or retained attorneys. There are no definite criteria for determining attorney competence, but the factors for consideration are whether the defendant is able to point to a specific procedural error, and whether the error prejudiced the case's outcome.
Civil cases are often more appealing to attorneys due to the type of cases, clientele, and greater financial reward. Civil litigants can be classified by the frequency with which they appear in court and the number of parties involved in the dispute.