What is The Difference Between a Lawyer and an Attorney?

What is The Difference Between a Lawyer and an Attorney?

“Talk to my attorney,” they might say. Or, “You’re going to hear from my lawyer!” Although often used interchangeably, the terms “lawyer” and “attorney” refer to two different types of law professionals. If you’re studying law or considering legal action, knowing the difference between them is vital to guiding your course of action.

Attorney vs. Lawyer: What Are The Differences?

The words “attorney” and “lawyer” refer to someone educated in law. However, there are distinctions between what each role is allowed to do.  Let’s start at the beginning by looking at the etymology of these two words.

What is a Lawyer?

The word “lawyer” stems from Middle English origins and refers to someone who is educated and trained in law and advises others in legal matters. Lawyers are appointed to uphold the law and protect the rights of clients.

What is an Attorney?

The word “attorney” comes from a French word meaning “(one) appointed” and implies acting on others’ behalf. At its essence, “attorney” indicates someone who acts as a practitioner in the court of law.

What Roles Can a Lawyer and Attorney Pursue?

While all attorneys are lawyers, not all lawyers are attorneys. 

Aspiring attorneys and lawyers must attend law school and receive their Juris Doctor (JD) degrees. Where they go next depends on their career objectives and intrinsic desires.

What Roles and Duties Can a Lawyer Fulfill? 

Lawyers don’t have to practice law in court and instead might take on the role of advisors with their clients. They may choose to practice in a specialized field such as real estate law, injury law, or family law, providing legal advice to their clients.

What Roles and Duties Can an Attorney Fulfill?

Attorneys practice law and represent clients in court. In order to litigate in specific jurisdictions, they must not only receive their JD but also pass the bar exam, an intensive assessment that tests their knowledge of state and federal regulations.

The Importance of Understanding the Difference Between a Lawyer and an Attorney

There are strict rules regarding the use of the terms “lawyer” and “attorney” in legal settings. Only licensed attorneys can describe themselves as lawyers, while other legal professionals like paralegals and notaries cannot. Additionally, attorneys licensed in one state have a limited scope of practice in other states. Exceeding those limits constitutes unauthorized practice of law, which is a crime in some states. 

Licensed law practitioners must abide by a code of conduct and maintain their licenses, failure of which can lead to accountability by the state bar or malpractice litigation. Despite holding a JD,  an unlicensed individual who provides legal advice may be liable for fraud. They might even face prosecution depending on the jurisdiction. Therefore, unlicensed JD holders should not rely on legal technicalities to call themselves attorneys, as this goes against the common understanding within and outside the legal profession.

Continuing Legal Education (CLE) Requirements for Attorneys in Arizona

The American Bar Association (ABA) is a voluntary membership association that operates as the voice of legal professionals. It provides resources for lawyers, judges, law students, and those interested in law-related issues.

According to the ABA, attorneys in Arizona must complete 15 hours of CLE every year to maintain their licenses. Of those 15 hours, 3 specialty credit hours must be devoted to ethics. There are no distance learning requirements. Attorneys in Arizona may receive all credits using live or previously recorded webcasts.

Continuing Legal Education (CLE) Requirements for Attorneys in Utah

Attorneys in Utah are required to report 12 hours of CLE per year in order to maintain their licenses. Of those 12 hours, they must devote 1 hour to ethics training and 1 hour to professional conduct training. 

6 of the 12 CLE hours must be completed through live and in-person courses produced by the ABA. The remaining 6 hours can be completed through distance learning, or self-study, programs. These could be ABA webinars or other on-demand courses.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is The Main Difference Between an Attorney and a Lawyer

An attorney is a legal professional who has completed law school, passed the bar exam, and is qualified to practice law in a specific state or federal jurisdiction. Attorneys are licensed to provide legal advice, represent clients in court, draft legal documents, and negotiate settlements on their clients’ behalf. 

A lawyer, on the other hand, is a broader term that includes anyone with a JD, including attorneys. While all attorneys are lawyers, not all lawyers are attorneys. Some lawyers work as consultants, researchers, or academics without being licensed to practice law or represent clients in court. To actively represent clients and provide legal advice, lawyers must be licensed by the state bar as attorneys. Unlicensed legal advice may result in criminal charges. 

What Additional Requirements Must Attorneys and Lawyers Fulfill?

Attorneys and lawyers must complete law school to earn their JD degrees. During this time, they have the opportunity to study specialized legal fields such as family law, intellectual property law, or tax law.

After receiving the JD, aspiring attorneys must pass the bar exam in the jurisdiction, or state, where they intend to work. For example, if an attorney wants to practice law in Arizona, they must take the bar exam in that jurisdiction.

After passing the bar exam, candidates receive character evaluations and background checks intended to make sure they possess the ethical and professional conduct requirements to represent others’ interests. Once these prerequisites have been fulfilled, candidates are admitted to the bar and become licensed attorneys.

Can a Lawyer Represent Me in Court?

The short answer is no. Only a licensed attorney can represent someone in a court of law. 

Law Services in Arizona and Utah

The lawyers and attorneys at Esquire Law work with clients in Arizona and Utah who have suffered personal injury. If you’ve been in a traumatic incident like a car or motorcycle accident, slipped and fell, or suffered medical malpractice, we will help you navigate the complex legal system by offering guidance and, if necessary, representation in court.

If you need law services in Arizona and Utah, contact Esquire Law today.

About the Author

Alan Beal

esquire law attorney Alan Beal

Alan Beal is a trial attorney who has dedicated his professional career to helping real people navigate the complexities of the insurance and legal system. Before joining Esquire Law, Alan represented insurance corporations in a variety of legal matters, ranging from personal injury to product liability disputes. His experience as an insurance defense attorney provides ... Alan Beal

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