You’re likely familiar with the terms “lawyer” and “attorney”. But what do these titles mean? Are they the same thing? Can one person be both?
There are many common misconceptions regarding these terms, and most people need to be aware of the critical differences. If you’re considering assistance, continue reading to learn more about the similarities and differences between a lawyer and an attorney.
Legal Professionals, Different Roles
Most people not involved in the legal profession are unfamiliar with the fact that lawyers and attorneys are not necessarily the same thing. Some critical differences set these two roles apart.
To better understand the differences between these two words, it’s helpful to know their origins.
“Lawyer” is the Middle English word used to refer to anyone educated or trained in the law. Over the years, this word is still sometimes used to describe law students and those with a formal background and training.
“Attorney” has roots in the early French language and describes someone who acted for others or on their behalf. Today, the word attorney is applied to anyone trained in the law, representing individuals (in keeping with its original definition).
As such, today’s definitions for both of these terms are largely in line with their historical counterparts. Modern-day lawyers are individuals formally trained in the law who don’t necessarily advocate for clients.
“Attorney” is only applied to those lawyers who have chosen to work within the court system and advocate on behalf of clients in criminal and civil cases. Generally, attorneys in the United States will specialize in a field of law and spend their careers litigating in local, state, and federal courts.
Who Can Become a Lawyer or Attorney?
An attorney is a lawyer admitted to a particular jurisdiction or court system, such as federal or state supreme courts. You may also hear the term “lawyer” used generically to describe someone who practices law without being formally admitted.
Generally, to become an attorney, an individual will first earn a bachelor’s degree from a college or university, then complete a three-year juris doctor program at a law school, pass a bar exam, and finally, apply for admission into a chosen jurisdiction.
Once someone has passed all the necessary steps for representing clients in a court of law, they can technically be referred to as an attorney. Attorneys can take cases to court and represent clients by arguing in their best interests before the judge or jury.
In contrast, lawyers may often work in adjacent legal roles but don’t always spend time in court litigating cases. As such, lawyers are usually limited to positions supporting attorneys or legal bodies.
Typical Roles for Lawyers and Attorneys
Because these two terms describe an individual’s ability to act in different legal situations, it’s essential to understand the typical professional roles of lawyers and attorneys.
Many legal jobs require a formal law degree but don’t involve client advocacy. As such, many lawyers work as:
- Law clerks
- Legal advisors
- Law enforcement officers
- Legal administrators
- Writers and researchers
Law degrees open many career paths but only sometimes involve advocacy. Additionally, some lawyers choose to become judges rather than work on behalf of a private or public party.
Attorneys engage in litigation on behalf of clients in court or in front of administrative bodies.
They usually specialize in one area, such as personal injury claims, criminal defense, medical malpractice, or family law. Attorneys work closely with investigators and legal teams who help gather evidence supporting a client and advise accordingly.
Do I Hire an Attorney or Lawyer?
Regardless of the type of legal support you need, knowing the difference between lawyers and attorneys is essential.
When you go to court, you’ll need to enlist the help of a credentialed attorney who can represent your case. If you need assistance outside of court, a lawyer may be the right person for the job.
Contact Our Personal Injury Law Firm in Queens, NY
We have two convenient locations in New York: