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The tradition of governing people by laws has been established over centuries. Societies have built up systems of law that have been studied and drawn upon by later governments. The earliest known law is the Code of Hammurabi, developed about 1800 B.C. by the ruler of the Sumerians. Another early set of laws was the Law of Moses, known as the Ten Commandments. Every set of laws, no matter when they were introduced, has been accompanied by the need for someone to explain those laws and help others live under them.

The great orators of ancient Greece and Rome set up schools for young boys to learn by apprenticeship the many skills involved in pleading a law case. To be an eloquent speaker was the greatest advantage. The legal profession has matured since those earlier times; a great deal of training and an extensive knowledge of legal matters are required of the modern lawyer and judge.

Much modern European law was organized and refined by legal experts assembled by Napoleon; their body of law was known as the Napoleonic Code. English colonists coming to America brought English common law, from which American laws have grown. In areas of the United States that were heavily settled by Spanish colonists, there are traces of Spanish law. As the population in the country grew, along with business, those who knew the law were in high demand. The two main kinds of law are civil and criminal, but many other specialty areas are also prevalent today, such as tax law, corporate law, and intellectual property law.

The Judiciary Act of 1789, which was passed by Congress and signed by President George Washington, established the Supreme Court. A Chief Justice and five Associate Justices comprised the early Supreme Court. The president of the U.S. appoints the Supreme Court members, depending on the approval of the Senate. According to the Constitution, the judges are to serve during "good Behaviour," which means their appointments are life terms. In 1869, the number of Supreme Court justices was increased to nine, the number that serve today.