Lawyers and attorneys both have legal degrees and practice law, so what’s the difference between the two? Are an attorney and a lawyer the same thing, and if not, what separates them?
While we often use the terms “attorney” and “lawyer” interchangeably, the two are distinct roles. Read on to learn more about the key differences.
Historically, a lawyer was anyone who went to law school and obtained a Juris Doctor degree.
A lawyer learned about the different areas of the law, including civil procedure, constitutional law, criminal law, legal writing, and so on. They may have chosen to specialize in one area of the law, such as family law, commercial law, or car accident cases.
However, a lawyer was not licensed to practice and did not represent individuals in court. Practicing without a license can result in criminal charges, depending on what state you’re in.
Many states have individual bar exams that you must pass in order to practice law in that state – for instance, you can only practice law in California if you’ve passed the California bar exam. However, there is a Universal Bar Exam that allows you to practice in twenty-seven states, including Oregon.
An attorney receives all the same training as a lawyer, including learning about different areas of law. The main difference between a lawyer and an attorney is that an attorney has passed the bar exam in their state. This means that they are licensed to practice and represent clients in court.
Attorneys can practice law in a wide variety of contexts, only one of which is the court system. Some attorneys act as consultants for corporations or help clients apply for patents on inventions.
In addition to “lawyer” and “attorney,” you may also hear some other terms to describe people who work in the legal field.
For one thing, the more formal term for an attorney is “attorney at law.” You may also see attorneys addressed as “esquire,” which is a title that indicates that someone is licensed to practice law.
You may also hear lawyers or attorneys referred to as “counsel” or as “advocates.” These terms don’t have specific definitions in the same way “lawyer” and “attorney” do. The term “counsel” means that someone provides legal advice, usually for a company, and an “advocate” can refer to either a lawyer or an attorney.
You may wonder what lawyers do if they aren’t allowed to practice law in their state. Luckily, many different jobs call for legal expertise but don’t require you to pass the bar exam. Most of these have to do with providing some sort of legal advice to clients without actually representing them in court.
Some lawyers work for companies, helping them to interpret legal issues and prepare legal documents. Others help companies to stay in compliance with the requirements of their industry. And some lawyers choose to go into education, teaching in law schools and preparing the next generation of lawyers and attorneys.
Although most of us use the terms “lawyer” and “attorney” interchangeably, they are not the same thing. The primary difference between an attorney vs. a lawyer is whether they have passed the bar exam in their state. Attorneys have and so can represent clients in legal matters, while lawyers haven’t and are limited to providing legal advice.
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