Attorney at Law Definition
A lawyer, attorney at law, or attorney is a professional who is licensed to practice law in a given jurisdiction. To “practice law” means to represent a client before a court of law, or to give legal advice.
While the requirements differ between states, generally, a lawyer must have a bachelor’s degree or equivalent, and must have graduated from an American Bar Association (ABA) accredited law school with a Juris Doctor (JD) degree. Lawyers who have gone to law school in a foreign country are usually required to obtain a Master of Laws (LL.M) before they may take a state bar examination.
When a person graduates law school, they do not automatically become a lawyer. Every state in the U.S. requires that a law school graduate take a bar exam. This is a long, rigorous exam that tests the graduate’s legal knowledge and their ability to apply it in specific situations. Additionally, a person must be found to be of good moral character before they are allowed to practice law.
There are several functions which only a lawyer can perform. Only a lawyer is qualified to give legal advice. Additionally, only a lawyer is qualified to represent a client before a court of law. Non-lawyers may only give legal information in certain situations, and in many states, government agencies hold hearings which allow non-lawyers to act as representatives.
Some legal terminology used in England is unfamiliar in the United States. For example, in the United States, the terms “barrister” and “solicitor” are almost never used. “Lawyer” and “attorney” are usually used in the U.S. interchangeably, as umbrella terms that cover both of those concepts.
A “paralegal” is not a lawyer, either. A paralegal is a person with some specialized legal training which allows him or her to assist lawyers in their daily tasks, such as research and writing. A “notary public” is also not a lawyer. If any of those persons offers you their services as a lawyer, you should decline immediately, and report them to the state bar.
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Last Modified: 07-14-2010 04:45 PM PDT
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