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When addressing legal matters it’s common to come across terms such as attorney and lawyer. However, you might be wondering, what the real difference between an attorney and a lawyer is?

It’s not always clear if these to terms refer to the same thing or whether they are distinctly different from one another. Whilst the names are used interchangeably, there are some important discrepancies in these definitions.

To make the distinction between the two a little clearer, this article looks at what an attorney is and how it is different from being a lawyer.

Attorney vs Lawyer: What’s the Difference?

There isn’t much difference between an Attorney-at-Law and a Lawyer. These are interchangeable terms that can both be used to refer to a legal representative working in the United States.

However, there is a key difference between the dictionary definition of these terms. Firstly, lawyer is a term that specifically refers to a person who is trained and educated in law. This does not always necessarily mean that they are able to practice the legal profession with clients.

The title attorney, however, is a little different. This instead refers to an individual who is licensed to practice law and is able to work litigation in the courts for a client.

As you can see, the key difference between the two is that a lawyer isn’t always licensed to practice law and an attorney hasn’t always been to law school. For example, the bar entry exam for the states of Washington, Virginia, Vermont, and California does not place limitations based on academic qualifications and allows training to be done via apprenticeships.

Of course, as most people looking for legal help need someone who is educated and is licensed to work with matters regarding the law. Therefore both terms are normally used to refer to a legal representation across the US.

What is an Attorney?

Attorney is a general term for a legal representative (short for Attorney-at-Law). An attorney can practice law and litigation on behalf of clients and is able to support individuals by performing a number of essential tasks.

The most important duties that attorneys carry out include:

  • Advising clients on legal issues
  • Researching state and/or federal laws
  • Examining evidence for court cases
  • Requesting appeals
  • Requesting damages for injuries
  • Providing criminal prosecution or defense support

Sometimes, the term attorney can also refer to an Attorney-in-Fact, who acts on behalf of an individual regarding financial and/or medical matters under a Power of Attorney. However, this is quite different from an Attorney-at-Law as an Attorney-in-Fact is not necessarily able or qualified to practice law for clients.

What is a Counsel?

In the UK, counsel is another term for a lawyer or attorney. This can refer to one person or a group of legal experts and practitioners representing a client regarding matters of the law.

Fundamentally speaking, however, there is no key difference between the term counsel and lawyer or attorney. These can all be used interchangeably to refer to a legal representative.