What Is The Difference Between An Attorney And A Lawyer?

What Is The Difference Between An Attorney And A Lawyer?

Search for “the difference between an attorney and a lawyer” on Google. You’ll probably find a handful of articles about how there is a difference. For instance, Indeed tells you that “[t]hough they share some similarities, there are several differences between these two careers.”

“An attorney,” Indeed explains, “is someone who has graduated from law school and passed the bar exam in the state in which they practice law.” On the other hand, Indeed says, “[a] lawyer is someone who has been educated in the law and has completed law school.”

According to Indeed, “an attorney can act as the legal representation for their clients in a court….” Lawyers “cannot represent clients in court because they have not passed the bar exam,” Indeed continues. But “[t]hey can provide legal advice to others….”

I’m someone who graduated from law school, passed the bar exam in Michigan and received my license to practice law in three states and several federal courts (including the Supreme Court of the United States), I have no idea what Indeed is talking about.

Photo courtesy of Kerkez on iStock via Getty Images.

Is there really a difference between an attorney and a lawyer?

A bunch of websites might tell you yes. But, in reality, the answer is no. As the American Bar Association explains, people can’t call themselves a “lawyer” or an “attorney” if they haven’t passed the bar. One of the ABA’s “10 Quick and Easy Ethics Tips for New Lawyers” makes that crystal clear: “Don’t refer to yourself as a “lawyer” or append “Esq.” to your name until you’ve successfully passed the bar.”

If you call yourself a lawyer or an attorney but haven’t passed the bar, many jurisdictions will call that the “unauthorized practice of law.” If someone has graduated from law school, they can indicate that they have a Juris Doctor degree (usually called a “J.D.”). But you can’t tell other people you’re a lawyer. And you absolutely cannot “provide legal advice to others” like Indeed says.

In North Carolina, for instance, it is against the law to provide legal services without passing the bar. Don’t take my word for it. Listen to the North Carolina State Bar. “Under North Carolina law,” The State Bar warns, “only licensed attorneys may provide legal services or prepare or help prepare legal documents for another person.” So, Indeed’s claim that someone who hasn’t passed the bar “can provide legal advice to others” is simply wrong.

There is more than one difference between state and federal court.
Image courtesy of deberarr via iStockphoto.com.

The Takeaway:

A lot of websites will tell you that there’s an important difference between a lawyer and an attorney. In reality, there isn’t. If you don’t have a license to practice law in a state, you can’t practice law in that state. Contrary to what websites like Indeed tell you, someone who does not have a license cannot “provide legal advice to others….” If your lawyer does not have a license in your state, you need to make sure the judge on your case knows.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Leave your comment

Legal Disclaimer: How to Justice cannot provide legal advice, representation, referrals, research or guidance. Nothing on this page is intended to or may be relied on as legal advice. If you or a loved one believe you need legal advice, you should contact an attorney. For our full terms and conditions, including our disclaimers and fair use policy, please visit our Terms of Use.

Submit a Resource