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What is An Attorney?

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What’s The Difference Between A Lawyer And Attorney?

Are Lawyers and Attorneys the Same Thing?

Recently I was doing some research into legal definitions and I stumbled into an issue. I was reading and found that a lawyer or an attorney are similar yet not interchangeable terms. My next thought was, what really is the distinction between these two titles?

So what exactly is the difference between a lawyer and an attorney? Both a lawyer and an attorney have earned a law degree. A lawyer, however, can’t practice law. What this means is that they can only give legal consultation to an individual, not represent them in the court of law. The obstacle in the way of a lawyer being able to practice is passing the bar exam. After this, a lawyer might then consider themselves an attorney-at-law. They must also be approved in their respective jurisdiction to be able to then practice law.

What this means is that an attorney is someone who is sought after when looking for representation in a court of law. Hopefully something I’ll never have to experience myself. An attorney can call themselves a lawyer, as they have completed their education. This includes a bachelor’s degree, with an additional few years to receive a law degree (called a Juris doctorate). Then an attorney must pass the bar exam to finally become a defender of justice. A lawyer may not consider themselves an attorney until after they have completed this exam.

Who Defines Lawyers vs. Attorneys?

The main entity that presides over this distinction is the American Bar Association or ABA. They have defined that lawyers are only to give legal counsel, though this can sometimes be more important than an actual representation. 

One might think of lawyers as less important due to them not being able to represent you in the court of law. However, this is not the case. There are actually many things a lawyer does that can help benefit you. 

Lawyers and Attorney Subcategories

As I discussed before, lawyers and attorneys are similar but have different responsibilities. More so, both of these professions are generally broken down into specific practices. For example, a lawyer could specialize in estate planning or property law. One of the main roles of an estate planning lawyer is to make sure that a person can draw up a will and then ensure that said person’s will is properly handled.

Many times these documents can be difficult to navigate, especially in a time of loss. An estate lawyer comes in to manage them and ensure that a person’s property is handed down to the people that they have named in their will. If a person doesn’t have a will, this could potentially lead to fighting amongst the family of the deceased individual. This can then lead to needing an attorney to prosecute individuals, which sounds like an awful time for all parties involved. 

Types of Attorneys

Lawyer vs. AttorneyTwo main types of attorneys reside on opposite sides of the courtroom, a defense attorney and a prosecutor.

A defense attorney is an individual who defends another individual or company in a court of law.

This means that the defendant is facing criminal charges, which generally lead to a fine or jail time. This is where a person would need to hire a criminal or civil defense attorney, depending on the crime being faced.

The defense lawyer is often paid much higher for this reason. How well they do their job could be the difference between someone facing jail time or going home free. On the other hand, there are prosecuting attorneys.

They represent a person, entity, or even place that is pressing charges towards the defense. The job of a prosecutor is to prove beyond responsible doubt that the defendant is guilty of the crimes that they have been charged with. 

When to Seek Out a Lawyer

Again, lawyers serve mostly as consultants for legal issues. Depending on the area that you need consultation on, a lawyer can help you with your needs. A family lawyer might be sought out when someone is dealing with custody or divorce issues. An immigration lawyer might be needed when navigating the course of working, studying, or becoming a citizen of a foreign country.

A personal injury lawyer could be called into service if you’ve sustained an injury and are seeking consultation towards a settlement. Though a lawyer might not be able to practice law in front of a court, they can help you navigate through the intricacies of the law.

When to Seek Out an Attorney

Attorneys are needed when someone is seeking justice in court when their rights have been impeded. The attorney is sworn by their state to protect the law and be an officer of the court. Just like lawyers, there are many types of attorneys.

If you’re seeking an attorney to defined you against a criminal charge, then you would seek out a trial attorney.  A medical malpractice attorney can help you in a lawsuit against a negligent medical practice, or defense against a malpractice lawsuit. An intellectual property attorney is sought out most often when someone has infringed upon a copyright claim. Regardless of your legal issues, an attorney’s goal is to ensure that you are protected in a court of law.  

Private Practices vs. Law Firms

Attorneys of the law are often either a part of private local practice, or they belong to a group that is referred to as public interest. Private practice lawyers are often a part of a law firm and represent a single individual or company. This is who one would seek if trying to be represented well in court, as they are sometimes paid directly by their clients.

The public interest often represents a county, state, or even federal officials and agencies. A public defender is a person who will represent a person in criminal court who does not have an attorney chosen. This is often after a person has been charged and arrested that they are appointed a public defendant. 

Common Questions About Lawyers and Attorneys

When Do I Need a Lawyer or Attorney? The best time to seek an attorney is before you face any potential legal issues. To make sure you are within the bounds of the law, seek out a lawyer or attorney. This will make your life easier and keep you out of potential legal issues, including fines of jail time. This is usually why lawyers have immense legal fees, to make sure you keep your freedom.

What Should I Expect from a Lawyer or Attorney? When you hire an attorney expect them to be thorough in how they handle and investigate your legal issues. It’s their job to make sure that you are acting within the restraints of the law. That being said, an attorney will keep what you say in confidence. This not only helps you from accidentally incriminating yourself but also helps to establish trust between you and your attorney. When choosing an attorney, make sure you find a reputable name that you can trust will represent you well.

How Does One Gain the Title of Esquire? The title of esquire is often used at the end of an attorney’s name, often abbreviated Esq., and is similar to other honorary titles. The title of esquire, however, can often be misleading as someone can bestow the title upon themselves. This means that the ABA has not been included and therefore an attorney’s credentials might not be as authentic as others. There are no additional qualifications towards becoming an esquire, unlike a Ph.D. or Dr. that had to earn the title through years of education.

Written By

Matt has over 10 years of legal writing experience. He's worked and written for legal websites for serval websites including Truskett Law, Bruner Law, Jeffrey & Erwin, Gary Crews, PLLC., Deposition Academy, and Wagner & Lynch.

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