The field has grown swiftly in recent decades, with the number of lawyers up by more than 400% since the 1950s.
The American legal system reflects the increasing complexity of society as a whole. The foundation of the system is the United States Constitution, but we also are governed by the acts of the United States Congress, fifty state constitutions, regulatory authorities, and state and municipal statutes. American law is also grounded in the decisions of its courts. These decisions make up the Common Law, and prior court decisions are precedent for later courts deciding similar issues.
"Lawyers are central figures in the life of a democratic country. They may deal with major courtroom cases or minor traffic disputes, complex corporate mergers or straightforward real estate transactions. Lawyers may work for giant industries, small businesses, government agencies, international organizations, public interest groups, legal aid offices, and universities-or they may work for themselves. They represent both the impoverished and the wealthy, the helpless and the powerful. Lawyers may work solo, in a small group, or in a large law firm.
About 72.9 percent of American lawyers are in private practice, most in small, one-person offices and some in large firms. Roughly 8.2 percent of the profession work for government agencies, 9.5 percent work for private industries and associations as salaried lawyers or as managers, 1.1 percent work for legal aid or as public defenders, and 1 percent are in legal education. (About 4.6 percent are retired or inactive.) Many lawyers develop expertise in a particular field of law. Large law firms that provide a full range of legal services tend to employ more specialists. The solo practitioner, who must handle a variety of problems alone, may have greater opportunity to work in several areas. Of course, there are lawyers in large firms who maintain general practices, and lawyers in one-person offices who concentrate on a particular legal issue. Both specialized and general practice can be rewarding. One offers the satisfaction of mastering a particular legal discipline, and the other the challenge of exploring new fields." 
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