Appropriate Usage and ContextAlthough the two terms often operate as synonyms, there is a distinct difference that must be noted: Attorneys can legally represent you in court proceedings, but lawyers cannot. This is because you are required to pass the state bar exam to receive the license that allows you to legally represent clients. Without this license, law graduates—lawyers—can only provide legal information without interpreting how it would apply to a particular legal matter. So, both lawyers and attorneys can provide legal counsel, but only a person who has passed the bar exam—an attorney—may legally represent clients in courtroom proceedings.
Difference Between Lawyer and AttorneyIt can get a bit confusing to decipher when to use lawyer or attorney. Here is a breakdown of the qualifications of a lawyer vs the qualifications of an attorney. Lawyers:
- Successfully earned a law degree at an accredited college or university. For example, a Juris Doctor (J.D.).
- Uses their degree to provide legal counsel outside of the courtroom.
- In general, most lawyers are in the process of becoming an attorney.
- If they do not successfully pass the state bar exam, they are not considered attorneys. However, they may work in fields of law without the license of the state’s bar association, usually in a law firm under a licensed attorney or as part of an externship for learning experience.
- Successfully earned a law degree at an accredited college or university.
- Passed the state bar examination, giving them the title of Esquire (Esp.). This indicates a lawyer who has passed the bar exam and therefore holds the license of the state’s bar association.
- Can legally represent clients, practice law in court, and offer legal advice that directly pertains to their client’s specific case.
- Can also work as consultants for companies and individuals, just like regular lawyers.