What are the Differences Between a Lawyer and an Attorney?

The terms “lawyer” and “attorney” are often used interchangeably, and there is usually little distinction given between them so you may be surprised to learn that they have specific differences.  In this article, we will go through the main differences between a lawyer and an attorney that you should be aware of.

What is a lawyer?

Firstly, it is important to understand what qualifies someone to be a lawyer, and also what their specific role entails. In the US, a lawyer is someone that has been to Law school and can offer legal advice on a variety of matters. To practice law in their jurisdiction and to provide representation, they must pass the bar exam. Without passing this, their opportunities are fairly limited. The bar exam is tough, and some students can take advantage of an education in Law without taking the bar. Essentially, a lawyer is someone that is educated in Law, and able to provide a variety of legal services. Technically an individual can be a lawyer once they have graduated law school, even if they are not licensed to practice law. 

What is an Attorney?

The term attorney is used commonly, and it is an abbreviation for “attorney-at-law”. This is the official name for a lawyer in the USA, and the roots go back centuries. The term was first used in 1768. An attorney-at-law is a legal practitioner that is suitably qualified to prosecute and defend the actions of clients. They have the qualifications and licensing that is required to provide representation for a client. Therefore, an attorney must be licensed to practice law, and this is a key difference between a lawyer and an attorney. 

Responsibilities of a Lawyer

Most lawyers will have passed the bar and will be eligible to provide legal assistance in their jurisdiction. This can involve reviewing/drafting contracts, writing wills, and creating other legal documents. Passing the bar gives more credence to an individual providing law advice; however, these services can be provided even without the qualification. For example, Law graduates may go on to work as a government advisor or a company consultant. This work involves legal issues, but the individual is unable to provide representation in any legal setting. Some lawyers may also provide extra support for an attorney. 

Responsibilities of an Attorney

All attorneys have completed an education in Law and passed the bar exam, which makes them eligible to practice law within their jurisdiction. A lawyer can be referred to as an attorney if they provide representation on behalf of a client. Most legal professionals prefer the term attorney to describe themselves since it has a more respected connotation. 

Closing Thoughts

You will now have a much clearer understanding of the differences between a lawyer and an attorney. Although both roles are similar and the terms are used together, there are still some ways in which they differentiate, and it is important to keep this in mind. Be sure to go with a professional and experienced attorney for all your legal needs.

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