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Understanding the difference between an attorney vs. a lawyer is vital to ensuring you choose the right legal expert aligned with your needs. Here, you will find out the difference between an attorney vs. lawyer. In the legal field, these are titles for legal professionals. Many people think that an attorney and a lawyer are the same. This is not exactly true. While both are legal professionals who have been educated in the field of law, there are some differences between the two. Regularly, the terms are often used interchangeably, despite the differences in meaning.

Definition of an Attorney

The term attorney is an abbreviated form of the formal title 'attorney at law’. An attorney is a person who has graduated from law school, has passed the bar exam in the state in which they wish to practice law, and is a member of the State Bar Association in the state in which he or she is practicing. Simplified, an attorney is someone who acts as a practitioner in a court of law.

In the role of an attorney, a person can:

  • Act as legal representation for their clients in a court of law.
  • Interpret federal and state laws to better meet the needs of their clients.
  • Offer legal advice relating directly to their client’s situation.
  • Act as a consultant for businesses or individuals.

As an attorney, you will engage in attorney-client privilege. This legal term refers to a legal privilege that works to keep confidential communications between an attorney and his or her client confidential. The privilege is asserted in the face of a legal demand for the communications, such as a discovery request or a demand that the attorney testify under oath.

When you hire an attorney, you will hear about attorney fees at some point. Attorney fees are the amount billed to a client for legal services performed on his or her behalf. These fees could be hourly, flat, or on contingency. Attorney fees can be set by a legal services agreement, or in certain types of cases, by statute or a court.

Here is an article on the difference between attorneys and lawyers.

Definition of a Lawyer

A lawyer is a person who has completed law school and obtained a JD degree but may not yet have passed the bar exam. If a person has not yet passed the bar exam in the state in which he or she wishes to practice, he or she will not be able to represent clients in a court of law. To practice law, provide legal advice, and represent a client in a court of law, you are required to pass the bar exam.

If a person has not yet passed the law exam, while he or she can provide legal information, he or she cannot interpret the federal and state laws to clients in reference to their legal matters.

There are several types of lawyers ; one type is a transactional lawyer. A transactional lawyer counsels individuals and organizations on the legal issues generated by their business dealings. As this type of legal work is less adversarial than litigation, many lawyers are drawn to this type of work.

Another type of lawyer is a lawyer for a start-up. A lawyer for a start-up business can help you structure the business, make contracts and agreements, review all licensing and regulatory guidelines, and make sure that you are in compliance. A start-up lawyer can also help protect your ideas and intellectual property with patents, trademarks, and copyrights.

Lawyers can work in a law firm under a licensed attorney or as part of an externship for learning experience. Practicing law and providing legal advice without having passed the bar exam is illegal and could result in criminal charges and legal actions against the individual. This is something to keep in mind.

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Roles and Responsibilities of an Attorney

The key role of an attorney is to practice law in court. However, there are many more roles and responsibilities that an attorney takes on. Following are the general roles and responsibilities of an attorney:

  • Attend all pretrial hearings and hearings to represent clients in a court of law.
  • Collect retainers from clients and execute contracts.
  • Provide legal support and guidance.
  • Advise clients on the best behavior while charges are pending, including confiding in family and friends and social media use.
  • Meet with clients at the remand or an office to critically discuss the pending charges and strategize on how best to defend.
  • Finding ethical solutions to legal matters.
  • Communicate with clients to understand their legal concerns and needs to provide them with essential pieces of advice.
  • Strategize on how to resolve the client's case in a favorable and cost-effective manner.
  • Enlighten clients about legal options and make sure the client knows the possible outcomes or threats.
  • Develop ideal arguments and represent clients in civil and criminal legal proceedings.
  • Staying up-to-date on current legislation.
  • Build trustworthy relationships with clients.
  • Prepare legal documents such as dispositions, pleadings, and contracts in a timely and accurate manner.
  • Assist clients with the execution of agreements such as plea bargains.
  • Perform research to gather pertinent information for each client case.

While all the roles and responsibilities listed are important, some of the roles and responsibilities carry more weight than others, such as attending all pretrial hearings and hearings to represent clients. If an attorney is unable to appear, he or she can either request a postponement or have another attorney appear on his or her behalf, if allowed, and with the consent of the client, of course.

Here is an article on the duties of an attorney.

Other Terms and Functions of Legal Professionals

Aside from attorneys and lawyers, there are other terms that refer to legal professionals who are similar to lawyers and attorneys. The other legal terms are solicitor, barrister, advocate, esquire, and counsel, which are defined as follows:

  • Solicitor: Solicitor is a term specific to professionals practicing law in the United Kingdom and other countries. This term refers to someone who practices law in a primarily administrative and client-facing setting. However, solicitors sometimes appear in court, especially in lower courts.
  • Barrister: This is another term referring to a legal professional in the United Kingdom and other parts of the world. Unlike solicitors, the primary duty of a barrister includes representing clients in court, especially in complex cases. Barristers must fulfill a specific set of educational and training requirements, including some traditional formalities.
  • Esquire: Esquire, often abbreviated to Esq., is an honorary title generally given to someone who has taken and passed the bar exam and is licensed by their state’s bar association. The term Esq. or Esquire will often appear on business cards, resumes, or signatures, following the name of the person who has met the necessary requirements.
  • Advocate: In the United States, the word advocate is often used interchangeably with terms like attorney and lawyer and has no special legal significance.
  • Counsel: The term legal counsel is a general term for someone who gives legal advice. This term often specifically refers to an individual who is trained in law and who works in-house for an organization or corporation.

Cost of Hiring a Lawyer

The hourly charge of a lawyer differs depending upon the type of lawyer that you need, the number of years of experience the lawyer has, and how complex the legal matter is. There are other factors that could come into play as well. To get an idea of the average hourly rate of a lawyer based on years of experience, you can refer to Laffey-Matrix.

Learn more about the average cost of a lawyer.

Being able to represent a client in a court of law is the most significant difference between an attorney and a lawyer. If you have been formally educated in the field of law but have not yet passed the bar exam, you are a lawyer. If you have graduated from law school, passed the bar exam, and are a member of the State Bar Association in the state where you are licensed to practice law, you are an attorney. Keep in mind that while all attorneys are lawyers, not all lawyers are attorneys.

Final Thoughts on an Attorney vs. a Lawyer

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ContractsCounsel is not a law firm, and this post should not be considered and does not contain legal advice. To ensure the information and advice in this post are correct, sufficient, and appropriate for your situation, please consult a licensed attorney. Also, using or accessing ContractsCounsel's site does not create an attorney-client relationship between you and ContractsCounsel.


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