Legal Practice

Is an attorney and a lawyer the same thing?

difference between a lawyer and an attorney

Well, if you look at it, attorney and lawyer are more often than not used interchangeably in the United States of America. There is very little difference between the two terms. This trouble to make a distinction arises because usually in the USA, there is no distinction made. But, a slight difference exists between the two.

What does it take to be a lawyer?

To define who a lawyer is, a lawyer is a person who has studied law and is trained in the field of law. However, it must be noted that they may not actually practice law. Lawyers, more often than not are known to give legal advice. In the United States of America, one can become a lawyer by attending law school, after graduating the person should pass her exam in his/her particular jurisdiction so as to practice law. If a person does not do so, then the opportunities are quite limited.

What does it take to be an attorney?

To define who an attorney-at-law/ attorney at law is, usually shortened to an attorney, an attorney is the official name of a lawyer in the United States of America. In 1768, the word attorney-at-law is known to be used for the first time.

The official definition of attorney-at-law: An attorney at law is a person who is a practitioner in a court of law and someone who is legally qualified to defend and prosecute actions in such court of law while representing the clients.

Well, the English word attorney owes its origin to the French word which means “a person acting for another as an agent or deputy.” An attorney is known to actually practice in a court of law, but a lawyer has an option to not practice law. He may or may not. An attorney has to pass the bar exam and has to be approved to practice law in a court of his/her jurisdiction.

Difference between a lawyer and an attorney

It might so appear that the terms lawyer and attorney are synonymous but one must note that all attorneys are lawyers but not all lawyers are attorneys. When it comes to the general public, the terms attorney and lawyer may be used interchangeably but when it comes to the American Bar Association, there is a difference, a tiny difference but a difference, nonetheless.

In common law countries like England and Wales, you will find more differences between an attorney and a lawyer. In England and Wales, there is a difference between those who practice law in court and those who do not practice in court, they use terms like solicitors, barristers, and advocates. In other common law countries, public notaries are also called attorneys.

A solicitor is also a lawyer, he deals with almost any legal matter. Solicitors generally don’t appear in courts, their job is to prepare legal documents and they work very closely with their clients and provide them legal advice. If you look into history, the word solicitor was first used in the United States. It meant lawyers who dealt with cases in a court of equity. Attorneys existed at that time, they handled cases in a court of law.

If you talk about barristers, barristers are called by solicitors if the case needs a court appearance as solicitors to don’t typically appear in courts. However, a barrister only gets referrals from solicitors, he doesn’t directly engage with clients. He gets referrals of those solicitors who are more often than not, retained by their clients. The solicitor is supposed to assist and help the barrister with the preparations since he can’t appear in court, he is supposed to help outside the court. This might be the case all the time, an advocate is also another word for a barrister in many common law countries.

So to answer the question, a lawyer and an attorney are not the same things. They might be used interchangeably by the common public but there is a slight but important distinction between the two. ( In United States of America) In other common law countries, you will find other important distinctions between the two.

This article aimed to provide a brief introduction to an attorney and a lawyer and the basic differences between the two.

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by mimansa pujari
  1. In the United States “attorney” and “lawyer” are synonymous. Any claim to the contrary is nonsense

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