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 from state to state, 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 are allowed to take a state bar examination. How to choose the right law school is a daunting prospect for an aspiring lawyer.
When a person graduates from law school, they do not automatically become a lawyer. Every state in the U.S. requires that a law school graduate take a state bar exam. This is a long, rigorous exam that tests the graduate's legal knowledge and his or her ability to apply it in specific situations. Additionally, the state bar must decide that the graduate has a good moral character before he or she can be admitted to the state bar. Once admitted to the state bar, the graduate is considered a licensed attorney and can practice law in that state.
Only an attorney can practice law. The practice of law includes everything from giving legal advice to representing a client before a court of law. There are only very limited situations where a non-lawyer would be allowed to practice law. Non-lawyers might be allowed to give legal information in certain situations, and in many states, government agencies allow non-lawyers to act as representatives during agency hearings.
A paralegal is not a lawyer. A paralegal is a person with some specialized legal training which allows him or her to assist lawyers in their daily tasks. They usually perform tasks such as research and writing.
A "notary public" is also not a lawyer. A notary public helps to make it easier to authenticate documents by notarizing them. Typically these documents are wills, contracts, and even deeds. If either a paralegal or notary public offers you their services as a lawyer, you should decline immediately, and report them to the state bar for the unauthorized practice of law.
Last Modified: 06-25-2018 10:58 PM PDTLaw Library Disclaimer
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