Private Corporations and Other Businesses

About 12% of lawyers, often called house counsel, work for corporations or other private businesses. Large corporations such as General Electric, AT&T, State Farm, and Liberty Mutual have huge legal departments with over 500 lawyers (Lawyer’s Almanac, 2017).

The growth of corporations, the complexity of business, and the multitude of problems posed by government regulation make it desirable, if not imperative, for some firms to have lawyers and legal departments familiar with the firm’s particular problems and conditions. In addition to legal work, lawyers often serve as officers of the company, and may serve on important policy-making committees, perhaps even on the board of directors. Although lawyers in legal departments are members of the bar and are entitled to appear in court, their lack of trial experience means that a firm will usually hire an outside lawyer for litigation and for court appearances.

Judiciary A very small proportion of lawyers are federal, state, county, and municipal court judges. Judges are generally required to be admitted to the bar to practice, but they do not practice while on the bench. There is so little uniformity that it is difficult to generalize further about judges, other than to point out three salient characteristics that relate to the ranks from which judges are drawn, to the method of their selection, and to their tenure.

Judges are drawn from the practicing bar and less frequently from government service or the teaching profession. In the United States, there is no career judiciary such as is found in many other countries, and there is no prescribed route for the young law graduate who aspires to be a judge—no apprenticeship that he or she must serve, no service that he or she must enter (Carp et al., 2010). The outstanding young law school graduates who serve for a year or two as law clerks to distinguished federal or state judges have only the reward of the experience to take with them into practice, not the promise of a judicial career. The legal profession is not entirely unaware of the advantages of a career judiciary, but it is generally thought that they are outweighed by the experience and independence that lawyers bring to the bench from their practice of law. Many of the outstanding judges of the country’s highest courts have had no prior judicial experience.

In more than two-thirds of the states, judges are elected, usually by popular vote and occasionally by the legislature (Streb, 2009). In a small group of states, the governor appoints judges, subject to legislative confirmation. This is also the method of selection of federal judges, who are appointed by the president, subject to confirmation by the Senate. The selection ofjudges is not immune from political influence, pressure, and controversy (Shuman and Champagne, 1997).

Regarding judges’ tenure, they commonly serve for a term of years rather than for life.

For courts of general jurisdiction, it is typically 4 to 6 years, and for appellate courts, 6 to 8 years. In a few state courts and in the federal courts, the judges sit for life. Whether on the bench for a term of years or for life, a judge may be removed from office only for gross misconduct and only by formal procedures.

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