What is the Difference Between an Attorney and Lawyer?

If you are like most people, you probably believe that an attorney and a lawyer are the same things. Even sites like Wikipedia don’t have a great explanation of the difference between a lawyer and an attorney. There are some differences, and though they both are legal professionals, the technical differences are there.

Let’s look into the difference between these two often interchangeable terms and how they might affect your legal counsel.

The Definition of an Attorney – Not All Lawyers are Attorneys

An attorney is someone who has gone to law school and has a license to practice law. This means that they have taken and passed the bar exam in their state, or sometimes, in several states. This type of legal professional works for a fee, and they offer legal advice and represent clients in a court of law.

You can see here that in order to be an attorney, you must have passed a particular state’s Bar Association exam. Additionally, attorneys have a higher standard than a lawyer might, and they also have all of the training requirements necessary for representing clients in legal proceedings.

In other words:

Attorney usually denotes an agent or substitute appointed and authorized to act in the place or stead of another. In re Ricker, 60 N. H. 207, 29 Atl. 559, 24 L. R. A. 740; Eichelberger v. Sifford, 27 Md. 320. It is “an ancient English word, and signifies one that is set in the turn, stead, or place of another; and of these some be private * and some be [public], as attorneys at law.” Co. Litt. 516, 128a; Britt 2856. . . (See Infra.)

What is the Definition of a Lawyer? They Cannot Necessarily Practice Law

Not all lawyers are attorneys. A simple definition of a lawyer is simply someone who studies law. They may have gone to law school and have a Juris Doctorate, and they may even offer some type of legal services. However, even if they have completed law school, they cannot offer legal representation to clients unless they have passed the bar exam. These people may offer legal advice against State Bar Association rules, but they cannot legally practice law.

At one time, even paupers were considered to be lawyers, and they were able to discuss any legal matter with anyone they chose.

Many of these people were very highly respected, and today, we ever have In Forma Pauperis waivers, which is a waiver of legal fees.

How to Choose an Attorney at Law

There are a few things to keep in mind when you are looking for someone to provide legal advice:

  • You want to protect yourself, so only consider professionals practicing law who operate under federal and state laws.
  • Remember that just because someone has a law degree does not mean they have passed the bar exam nor practice law legally.
  • Choosing a person to prepare legal documents which has not passed the bar may cause those documents to be null and void.

If Someone Has Completed Law School, They are not Automatically a Lawyer/Attorney

It’s also important to keep in mind that a person can go to school and even complete it, but that doesn’t mean they can legally provide counsel. There are certainly other legal professions that allow a person to work in the legal field, yet they are not a licensed attorney.

These people may have a Juris Doctor, work at a law firm, has an honorary title, and have met all of the educational and training requirements necessary to work in a legal profession. Still, unless they have passed that bar exam, they are not able to call themselves an attorney.

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