Authored by LegalMatch Law Library Managing Editor, , Attorney at Law

Lawyer and Attorney: Is There A Difference?

All attorneys are lawyers, but it is improper to say that all lawyers are attorneys.

Who Are Lawyers?

A lawyer is someone who is educated in the law. A person who has been educated in the law will always be addressed as a lawyer, even if he or she does not give legal advice to other people. In fact, a lawyer in the United States is simply anyone who has gone through law school. However, the lawyer who has just completed law school may not be allowed to do certain legal jobs (e.g. representive you in court) until they successfully pass the bar exam that is conducted in the specific legal area they wish to practice.

Who Are Attorneys?

Attorneys are also recognized as lawyers. Attorneys graduate from law school and they can also choose to practice law as a profession. However a potential attorney must pass the bar exam to be eligible to practice law within a specific jurisdiction. Apart from performing the basic functions of a lawyer, attorneys can also act as legal representatives for their clients. An attorney does not just interpret the law; he or she also applies his knowledge of the law to provide the needs of his client. Attorneys act as lawyers but not all lawyers can perform the work of attorneys.

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Other differences: One of the essential steps involved in becoming an attorney is sitting for the bar exam. This is usually a rigorous test lasting two or three days and in many states the passing rate is below 50%. Conversely, a lawyer may work as a technical lawyer by serving as a consultant or policy advisor although he is not empowered to act as a legal representative.

Another term that is often misunderstood in law is "esquire". The term is an informal title for acknowledging educated people in the UK. Apart from being a title for solicitors and barristers (terms also used in the UK for legal professionals), it is also used to honor doctors and those that have successfully completed their doctorate courses. In the US, "esquire" is mostly used as a title for attorneys. Other people in the US who use the term "esquire" as a title may find themselves in trouble especially if they do the things that are solely reserved for lawyers.

Although it is possible to differentiate these terms, the real meaning of the words can only be appreciated by a lawyer. Many people just feel safe to interchange these terms inasmuch as the lawyer in charge of their case also acts as an attorney.

Everyday, people make use of the words "attorney" and "lawyer" on televisions and newspapers. Sometimes, our family and friends may also talk about their need for a lawyer or attorney. These words are often interpreted to mean the same, but they are actually two different things. Although there is little difference between them, state bar associations consider it very important to use them appropriately, especially in cases where the practice of law is investigated. However, the two words are often interchanged in the United States.

The following links provide more information for understanding these different legal professions.

Lawyer Resources