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Attorney vs Lawyer: What Are the Differences?

You have probably heard people using the words “lawyer” and “attorney” to refer to someone who works in the legal field. In many cases, we use both terms as synonyms, but the truth is that there is a difference between these two titles. The main distinction between a lawyer and an attorney is that an attorney is a lawyer who is qualified to practice law in court.

What Is The Difference Between Lawyer And Attorney? I Greenberg & Stein, P.C.
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What qualifies someone as a lawyer?

A lawyer is a person who has graduated from law school and earned a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree. In law school, students will learn to “think like a lawyer” to develop crucial skills like critical thinking. In some cases, students can also opt to obtain a Master of Laws (LLM) degree. This certification focuses on more specific areas of law like international law, intellectual properties, among other areas.

What qualifies someone as an attorney?

Just like a lawyer, attorneys need to earn a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree, this means that all attorneys are lawyers. However, what qualifies someone as an attorney is the fact that they took and passed the state bar exam. The state bar exam is a test that usually lasts two or three days. It is designed to evaluate the knowledge about state and federal laws that are needed to become a licensed attorney to practice law in court. This exam is widely known for its difficulty and the long time it takes students to prepare for it. Once a lawyer has passed the bar exam, they will become a member of the State Bar Association and will be allowed to practice law in court.

Attorney vs. Lawyer – What are the differences in roles and duties?

Both lawyers and attorneys can work in the legal industry because they are both professionals who have graduated from law school. However, attorneys are the only ones who can appear in court to represent a client or prosecute parties accused of committing a crime. Attorneys typically have greater job alternatives because many firms or organizations require applicants to have passed the bar test. Nonetheless, working as a lawyer without having passed the bar test is entirely doable.

There are numerous roles available in the legal industry as consultants or advisors for firms or government entities. Most law school graduates begin working as lawyers in law firms with a licensed attorney to broaden their legal knowledge and gain experience while studying for the bar exam. Both lawyers and attorneys normally specialize in one field of law and continue working in that area for the rest of their careers.

What can attorneys do that lawyers cannot?

Attorneys are permitted to practice law in court, however, lawyers who have not passed the bar test are not permitted to appear in court. As a result, attorneys can work directly with clients who, for whatever reason, need to appear in court, either as defendants or as accused. Practicing law without a license is a crime, and anyone found guilty can possibly face a prison penalty of up to 5 years in prison, depending on the state.

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How to choose the right attorney for your case?

If you are looking for an attorney to represent you in court, it is important to choose someone who is not only qualified for your case but also someone you feel comfortable working with. As previously stated, most attorneys will specialize in an area of law. Therefore, if your case is related to a car accident, then you should hire a car accident attorney. It is advisable to speak with at least 3 or 4 different attorneys to learn more about their background, area of expertise, and personality. Look for someone who has experience handling cases similar to yours. You can also ask them about their success rate, their fees and if they work for a law firm you can also ask about the resources their firm offers.

What are other common law terms of distinction?

Besides the terms “lawyer” and “attorney” there are other titles in the legal industry that can be confusing because all relate to laws.

  • Esquire (Esq.): Someone who has passed the bar exam and is a member of the state’s bar association, can use the title “esquire”. Although this is mainly an honorary title, it is commonly seen on business cards and resumes.
  • Solicitor: A solicitor is someone who normally works providing legal advice to clients, helping prepare them for a trial, and providing support in administrative tasks. They rarely appear in court. This term is commonly used in the United Kingdom and other countries.
  • Barrister: This is a kind of professional that usually handles more complex matters. They appear in court but clients do not normally have contact with them, instead, the solicitors are the ones that act as intermediaries between the barrister and the clients. This is another term mainly used in the United Kingdom and other countries.
  • Counsel: This is a person who is also a professional in-law but generally works for corporations or other types of organizations giving legal advice.
  • Advocate: In the United States this term is used to refer to both lawyers and attorneys ignoring the differences between these two titles.