When it comes to law firms and legal representation, is there a difference when selecting a lawyer vs. attorney? If you've been looking for a lawyer or attorney near you, chances are you'll view those terms as interchangeable. But you'd be wrong because there is an actual difference.
All attorneys are lawyers, but not all lawyers are attorneys. Lawyers graduate from law school. Attorneys graduate from law school but pass the bar examination and become a member of a state bar association. Passing the bar test confers the legal right for a law school graduate to practice professionally.
The bottom line?
An attorney can practice law in a courtroom, whereas a lawyer cannot do so without potential legal ramifications.
What is a Lawyer?
A lawyer learns and trains about the law and receives a Juris Doctor (JD) degree. That said, they may decide not to practice law, choosing to provide legal advice only without the need for a court proceeding. Lawyers may serve as consultants or advisors.
In many cases, lawyers select a specialized field where they advise clients. You may speak with a lawyer near you about these types of issues, again without the need for a court proceeding:
A key distinction relating to lawyers is that to practice law, provide legal advice, and appear in court, they must pass the bar examination. An unlicensed lawyer cannot give legal advice and may be subject to criminal charges and legal actions.
Lawyers can work in law offices under a licensed attorney or as part of training for learning purposes.
What is an Attorney?
Attorneys (shortened from attorneys at law) must pass the bar exam, which allows them to practice law in court. Attorneys can also take part in other legal proceedings while offering legal advice to clients.
By becoming a bar association member, an attorney must comply with rules of professional conduct and a code of ethics to practice in court. Attorneys at law act as court practitioners licensed by a state to defend a client or prosecute individuals. Again, the critical distinction of attorney vs. lawyer is practicing in a court of law.
Attorneys can advise and represent you in court on matters like these:
Other Terms Associated with Law Firms
Although lawyers and attorneys represent the most common terms associated with law offices, other words relate to the legal profession. Each has its distinct meaning.
Solicitor: Solicitors practice law in the United Kingdom and other countries. They practice law in administrative and client-facing settings primarily.
Barrister: Another term relating to the United Kingdom and other parts of the world, a barrister represents clients in court generally involving complex cases. Solicitors act as intermediaries to barristers.
Esquire: This term is an honorary title for lawyers passing the bar exam and holding a license in a state's bar association. It's effectively the equivalent of a Dr. or Ph.D. in other professions.
Advocate: An advocate is used interchangeably with lawyers and attorneys.
Counsel: Often used interchangeably with lawyer or attorney, counsel refers to someone who gives legal advice. A counselor trains in the law and typically work in-house for an organization or corporation.