An attorney refers to any licensed professional to practice law in one or more states. A lawyer, attorney at law, or attorney, is a professional who is licensed to practice law in a given area or jurisdiction. To “practice law” generally means representing a client before a court of law or giving legal advice.
Attorneys perform many jobs and provide many benefits in their everyday work. Some lawyers may practice in a wide range of areas of the law; others may only specialize in a few or only one area. Attorneys can operate in groups (such as in a law firm), with a partner, or a solo practice.
To become an attorney, one must finish law school (usually three years) and pass a state bar assessment.
Every state has its own bar association, and the professional must be licensed in every state that they intend to practice (though some states have cross-licensing programs).
In the U.S., attorneys must also pass various background checks and pass a professional responsibility test before practicing law. Attorneys may work through a solo practice or with other attorneys in a law firm.
What Tasks Do Attorneys Perform?
Attorneys perform various tasks such as:
- Representing clients in a court of law
- Counseling clients on their legal inquiries and concerns
- Examining laws and pleading in court
- Analyzing the evidence for trial
- Engaging in discovery (obtaining documents for trial)
- Requesting appeals, if possible
- Requesting damages for injuries
- Engaging in criminal defense or prosecution
Some lawyers practice as “specialists” in a given field, such as patent law, copyright law, and other areas. Most state laws mandate that the specialist lawyer pass another exam or meet other provisions before they can represent themselves as a specialist.
What Is Discovery?
Discovery is a part of a civil case before trial where both sides try to “discover” facts about the case held by the other side. Discovery is a crucial part of pre-trial preparation. In addition to gathering information and evidence for trial, discovery allows each party to learn the strengths and weaknesses of their case. Information produced or obtained during discovery can lead to a settlement, eradicating the need for a trial.
Each state has its own discovery rules, but most are modeled after the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 26. Each side can look into any matter pertinent to the case, except that which is privileged.
These matters can include the custody or location of:
- Physical things, or
- Identity of a person.
Is There a Difference Between the Terms Lawyer and Attorney?
In most circumstances, the terms “lawyer” and “attorney” are used interchangeably to refer to anyone who practices law. Yet, technically there is a difference between the two terms. The term lawyer often refers to anyone with an educational background in law. This can include law professors, legal researchers, and other legal professionals.
In contrast, the term “attorney” often refers to someone licensed to practice law and currently practicing litigation on behalf of clients in court. But, most individuals use the words interchangeably.
What Is Required to Become an Attorney at Law?
While the requirements to become an attorney differs from state to state, generally, a lawyer must have a bachelor’s degree or equivalent. They must also 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 must usually get a Master of Laws (LL.M) before taking a state bar examination. How to choose the right law school is a daunting prospect for a person who desires to be a lawyer.
When a person graduates from law school, they are not automatically entitled to practice law. Every state in the U.S. requires that a law school graduate take a state bar examination. This is a lengthy, stringent exam that tests the graduate’s legal knowledge and ability to apply it in distinct situations. Further, the state bar must review the applicant’s background and decide that the graduate has a good moral character before they can be admitted to the state bar.
Once admitted to the state bar, the graduate is formally deemed a licensed attorney and can practice law in that state. If they want to practice law in a different state, they will normally be required to pass the bar exam for that exact state.
What Are Attorneys Allowed to Do?
Only an attorney is allowed to practice law. The law practice includes many services, from giving legal advice to representing a client before a court of law. There are only minimal situations where a non-lawyer would be ever allowed to practice law.
Non-lawyers might be permitted to give legal information in certain cases. Government agencies might enable non-lawyers to act as representatives in many states during agency hearings.
What Is the Difference Between an Attorney, a Paralegal, and a Notary Public?
A paralegal is different from a lawyer. A paralegal is a person with some specialized legal training that allows them to assist attorneys in their daily duties. They usually perform particular tasks such as research and writing.
A “notary public” is also not a lawyer. A notary public helps to authenticate documents by notarizing them. Generally, these documents are wills, contracts, deeds, and other objects that need certification. Suppose a paralegal or notary public tries to offer you their “services” as a lawyer. In that case, you should decline immediately and report them to the state bar for the unauthorized practice of law.
What Areas of Law Do Attorneys Practice?
The entire body of laws is exhaustive and tries to cover every aspect of life. Laws are divided into different categories; attorneys usually practice in a specific “practice area” (though many attorneys may practice in many areas).
While not a complete or all-inclusive list, general practice areas include:
- Family Law: This includes different family-related disputes and issues, including divorce, child custody and visitation, spousal support, child support, paternity, and other topics;
- Employment Law: This covers various work-related conflicts like hour and wage claims, wrongful termination, hostile work environments, harassment, and discrimination;
- Criminal Law: This area of law conceals a whole host of violations, including theft crimes, assault and battery, various homicide crimes like manslaughter and murder, and other crimes;
- Real Estate Law: Real estate laws cover transactions and conflicts over property sales and transfers, landlord/tenant issues, construction, property improvements, and other aspects related to property;
- Business Law: Business attorneys may address a wide range of subjects like contracts between businesses, business conflicts, buying and selling a business, and other business activities;
- Immigration Law: This body of laws covers aspects such as visas, citizenship, removal or deportation from the country, and green cards;
- Personal Injury Law: This is a broad practice area that covers various claims like negligence claims, slip and fall cases, car accidents, malpractice, and other instances where a person suffers harm;
- Wills, Trusts, and Estates: Attorneys who practice in this area may handle various financial matters, including distribution of property after a person’s death through their will, creation and management of trusts, and estate planning;
- Bankruptcy Law: This area of law deals mainly with people’s debts and covers aspects like consumer and business bankruptcy, debt collections, consumer credit, and specific tax issues;
Thus, when selecting an attorney at law, you’ll usually want to consider what area of law your dispute, conflict, or legal inquiry falls under. You can locate an attorney who provides services in that particular area.
I Have a Legal Dispute. Should I Hire an Attorney for My Claim?
You may need to hire an attorney if you have any legal disputes, conflicts, or questions that need to be addressed immediately. Your attorney can represent you in court, help you file papers, and perform various other assignments for your case. Also, your attorney will be able to advise you regarding any significant changes or updates to the law that might affect your case.