“Attorney” vs. “Lawyer”: What’s The Difference?

female lawyer speaking to judge in a courtroom, teal filter.

The words lawyer and attorney are often used as general terms for a person who gives legal advice and aid and who conducts suits in court.

What’s the difference between an attorney and a lawyer?

The American Bar Association does not differentiate between a lawyer and attorney. The ABA uses these terms interchangeably to refer to a person who can practice law. The American Bar Association states on their website that “A lawyer (also called attorney, counsel, or counselor) is a licensed professional who advises and represents others in legal matters.”

However, some law offices may use the words attorney and lawyer to refer to people who have different responsibilities or specializations. For example, they may use the word attorney to describe a person whose typical work involves representing people in court and use the word lawyer to describe a person who does other kinds of legal work outside of the courtroom, such as offering legal advice or reviewing legal documents.

Sometimes, the word lawyer is also used more generally to refer to any person who has graduated from law school and earned a law degree. However, this usage does not agree with the ABA’s definition of a lawyer (or attorney). The ABA states that a person is not a lawyer until they have passed the state bar examination and have been licensed by a state to practice law.

Barristers vs. solicitors

In the UK, those who practice law are divided into barristers, who represent clients in open court and may appear at the bar, and solicitors, who are permitted to conduct litigation in court but not to plead cases in open court. Typically, barristers are hired by solicitors on behalf of a client.

What’s a counsel?

Counsel usually refers to a body of legal advisers but also pertains to a single legal adviser and is a synonym for advocatebarristercounselor, and counselor-at-law.

As to the abbreviation Esq. for Esquire used by some lawyers, it has no precise significance in the United States except as sometimes applied to certain public officials, such as justices of the peace. For some reason, lawyers often add it to their surname in written address. However, it is a title that is specifically male with no female equivalent, so its use by lawyers is fading away.

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