6 Basic difference between lawyer and attorney [2023]

This post covers the difference between a lawyer and an attorney.

The phrases lawyer and attorney are frequently used synonymously in the United States.

Due to this, both legal professionals and non-professionals frequently inquire what’s the difference between a lawyer and an attorney.

The differences between the two roles can be difficult to understand, especially for people who have never practiced law.

To clear up any ambiguity I’ll explain everything you need to know about the difference between a lawyer and an attorney in this article.

I will take you through;

  • who is lawyer
  • who is an attorney
  • the major difference between a lawyer and an attorney
  • difference between a lawyer and an attorney based on;
    • Education
    • License
    • Roles
    • Jobs and employment
    • area of specialization
    • ethics and code of conducts
    • etc.

Apart from that, I will also share with you the difference between

  • lawyer and advocate
  • Barrister and solicitor

Now let’s break this down;

Difference between a lawyer and an attorney

The major difference between a lawyer and an attorney is that a lawyer is a general term that refers to any person in the legal profession, while an attorney is a term that specifically refers to the person who has been licensed to practice law and can act on behalf of clients.

All attorneys are lawyers but not all lawyers are attorneys.

A lawyer is a general term.

It represents everyone in the legal profession.

Depending on the law of a specific country, it may include, judges magistrates, prosecutors, state attorneys, etc.

Attorneys may also be recognized as lawyers, but the very key element which may distinguish an attorney from other lawyers is the ability to act on behalf of another person.

Who is a lawyer?

The term “lawyer” comes from Middle English and refers to someone who has been educated and trained in the field of law.

A lawyer is a person who holds a special qualification related to law. For example, a Diploma in law, a certificate in law, a Bachelor of law, and law school.

A lawyer has knowledge of several legal issues and he/she can provide advice and legal aid but he/she cannot necessarily act on behalf of someone else.

However, In the USA a lawyer also conducts suits in court proceedings and represents clients in various legal instances, the term has expanded to overlap the definition of attorney.

See: 34 Types of lawyers: The best and the worst

who is an Attorney?

According to dictionary.com the word attorney comes from French meaning ‘one appointed or constituted’ and the word’s original meaning is of a person acting for another as an agent or deputy.

Attorneys are also recognized as lawyers. But the very key element which may distinguish an attorney from other lawyers is the ability to act on behalf of another person.

Difference between lawyer and attorney according to their roles

A lawyer is someone who has graduated from law school and may or may not pass the bar test, but they are not licensed to practice law in court.

Lawyers can provide legal advice but they lack the capacity to represent others.

In order to gain experience, lawyers can work in a law firm under the supervision of a licensed attorney or as a part of an externship.

Without having passed the bar exam, a person cannot practice law or give legal advice, and doing so is punishable by law and subject to legal action. It’s important to keep this in mind.

Attorneys can work as consultants or counsel. Many opt to practice in a particular sector such as corporate law, Human rights law, litigation, or intellectual property law, where they can provide clients with legal assistance.

An attorney can act as a legal representative for their clients in a court of law in this capacity.

An attorney’s other responsibilities include interpreting state and federal laws, applying their legal expertise to their client’s needs, and keeping meticulous records of their dealings with clients and other legal experts.

Difference between a lawyer and attorney-education & license

Education and license are the core elements that differentiate attorneys and lawyers.

Both lawyers and attorneys have graduated from law school.

Students who complete law school typically receive a Juris Doctor (JD) degree, many lawyers and attorneys have this level of education.

Another education qualification that both lawyers and attorneys may possess is a Master of Laws (LL.M), which is a higher-level credential that grants the person global legitimacy.

While an attorney has taken and passed the bar test, a lawyer may or may not have taken it and even the LLM can never make him an attorney.

After passing the bar exam, a lawyer is licensed to practice law by a state authority thus he becomes an attorney.

That authority can assist you in determining whether or not a person holds a law license and is authorized to practice in a specific jurisdiction.

Difference between a lawyer and attorney-area of specialization

Both lawyers and attorneys have the right to choose their areas of specialization.

Either way, a lawyer might have limited choice because he lacks the capacity to act on behalf of another person.

Some common areas of specialization may include; Personal injury law, copyright law, family law, etc.

Difference between a lawyer and attorney – jobs

Both lawyers and attorneys can choose from a variety of career options.

Generally, the expertise, location, amount of experience, and professional goals might influence their career pathways.

Lawyers can work for businesses, government agencies, nonprofit groups, or education institution-universities and colleges.

The best jobs for lawyers might relate to legal consultants and legal regulatory specialists, he may wish to work as a legal officer to handle all legal matters inside a corporation, including both internal and external concerns.

You may find the latest jobs for lawyers here

As for lawyers, an attorney may also work for businesses, government agencies, nonprofit groups, or education institution-universities and colleges, on top of that an attorney may represent his client in court mediations, administrative law proceedings, and arbitrations.

An attorney may grab his job from his area of specialization, he might become a patent attorney, personal injury attorney, car accident attorney, insurance attorney, or generally a litigation attorney.

Difference between a lawyer and attorney -ethics and code of conduct

Both attorneys and lawyers are bound by professional etiquette and code of conduct in the legal profession.

They are all required to discharge their duties with a high level of integrity, respect, honesty, confidentiality, and competence.

The breach of ethics attracts disciplinary measures against lawyers and attorneys.

You may read more about ethical issues when lawyers discharge their duties here

Other similar terms

Barrister vs solicitor

A barrister is a lawyer who represents clients in open court and may appear at the bar while solicitors are the lawyers who may be permitted to conduct litigation in court but not to plead cases in open court alternatively they just spend most of their time doing other law firms’ work.

Solicitors provide specialist legal advice on contentious and non-contentious work to their clients in a variety of areas of law.

When we will relate this to the USA context, Barrister=attorney, and solicitor=lawyer.

Lawyer vs advocate

Generally, an advocate is a lawyer who can act on behalf of the other person same as an attorney/barrister while a lawyer represents everyone in legal professions not necessarily capable of acting on behalf of others.

Conclusion

My journey here was to tell you the difference between a lawyer and an attorney. hope you find this post useful. The bottom line is

The words lawyer and attorney are commonly used in the USA. In the UK you may find words like Barristers and solicitors and in other countries, you may find words like lawyer and Advocate

A lawyer is a broad phrase that refers to anyone who works in the legal field, whereas an attorney is a term that refers to someone who practices law on behalf of their clients.

In the USA the term lawyer and attorney may mean the same thing.

In the UK barrister represent clients in open court and may appear at the bar while solicitors spend most of their time doing other law firms’ work.

An advocate is a lawyer who can act on behalf of the other person.

Attorney/Barrister/advocate is similar while solicitor/lawyer are similar too.

Read also

Isack Kimaro
Isack Kimaro

Editor-in-chief and founder of sherianajamii.com. Holder of Bachelor of Laws (LL.B) and Post Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice. Lawyer by profession and blogger by passion