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

Attorney vs. Lawyer

The difference between a lawyer and an attorney...

 

An attorney is a lawyer but a lawyer is not necessarily an attorney. This is a very subtle and very important distinction between lawyers and attorneys. When a lawyer passes the bar exam in the field in which they intend to practice, their methods are limited. For example, a consultant to the government, who attended law school, is technically a lawyer and may use their skills but must not cross the subtle line into providing actual legal representation. A lawyer is a person trained in the law and can provide legal guidance to a client. So anyone who has attended or graduated from law school in America can consider themselves a lawyer. The biggest technical difference is a lawyer is any person who is licensed to practice law.

 

An attorney by definition is also a lawyer. An attorney appears in court and other settings on behalf of a client. They have attended law school, passed a bar examination and has been admitted to practice law. If you give someone the "power of attorney," it means they can legally sign documents and make decisions for you in the area in which you've given them that power. An attorney is someone who is actually representing a client, or acting as a legal agent. People sometimes use the term "attorney in fact" to indicate that they are referring to the strict definition. So you can be a lawyer without being an "attorney in fact" if you never actually represent anyone. And you can be an "attorney in fact" without actually being a lawyer by representing yourself.

 

So, a lawyer is someone who is trained in the field of law and provides advice on legal matters, whereas an attorney is a professional that is licensed to act on their client's behalf and can represent them in court. The terms are both synonyms for one another and are often used interchangeably. On a level of semantics, one could argue that the term attorney is more formal than the term lawyer because the word lawyer conjures up more negative connotations. For example, you have probably heard hundreds of "lawyer" jokes, but not many jokes using the term attorney.

 

"An attorney is a lawyer with a client." Almost true but not quite true. You can be an attorney without being a lawyer if you're representing yourself and you're not licensed to practice law. Confusing? Yes, a little. But getting bogged down about semantics is much less important than finding a "lawyer" or "attorney" that you can trust.

 

Is an attorney a lawyer?

 

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