Attorney vs Lawyer: What Are the Differences?

Anyone who has graduated from law school could be called a lawyer.
An attorney must have graduated from law school, passed the bar, and will practice law in court.
Lawyers often give legal advice and don’t practice law in court.

attorney vs lawyer definition
Although the terms “lawyer” and “attorney” have many similarities, not all lawyers are attorneys.
While the terms “attorney” and “lawyer” are sometimes used interchangeably, they actually denote different things. Each has different rights and obligations.

Of fact, the terms “lawyer” and “attorney” share many similarities. They both refer to people who have obtained legal education and achieved a Juris Doctor (JD) degree. However, while every attorney is a lawyer, not every lawyer is an attorney.

Attorneys must pass the bar exam, a two- or three-day state-specific exam that assesses a lawyer’s legal knowledge and ability.

attorney vs lawyer meaning
Defining the Term “Lawyer”
Simply put, a lawyer is someone who has completed a course of legal instruction at a law school, which typically entails three years of full-time study after completing an undergraduate degree.

If a law school graduate does not take or fails the bar exam, it does not always follow that they will never be able to apply what they learned in law school in the workplace. On the contrary, many people with legal degrees work in fields other than law, such as government and business.
However, a lawyer who is not a member of a state bar cannot represent clients in court or other legal processes. If a lawyer does this, despite having a law degree, they may be charged with unauthorized practice of law.

Defining the Term “Attorney”
An attorney has finished the educational requirements for taking a state bar test, passed the exam, and taken the oath of membership in a state bar.

Attorneys are licensed to practice law and have the right to do so. They may be members of more than one state bar, especially if they practice near a state border. Attorney specialty differ and may necessitate admission to a distinct bar, such as the patent bar for patent attorneys.
As a member of the state bar, an attorney must also follow the state’s professional conduct standards. These ethics regulations outline how an attorney must conduct their practice, including attorney advertising, keeping client and personal finances separate, attorney-client privilege, and maintaining reasonable communication with the client about the progress of a case.
Violations of these rules may result in charges being filed against the attorney by a state ethics board, which may impose a variety of disciplinary actions against the attorney, including reprimand, suspension, or disbarment.

Do the distinctions in how these terminologies are used really matter? Practically speaking, no—though this depends on who you ask.

Most lawyers and attorneys don’t discriminate between the two terms and use them interchangeably, therefore mixing them up is unlikely to upset a legal professional’s sensibilities.

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