Attorney versus Lawyer: What Are the Differences?

What is the difference between attorney and lawyer?


Most people have the misconception that the terms lawyers and attorneys are interchangeable and comprise the entirety of the legal profession. However, there are also significant distinctions between those two in terms of prerequisites and career prospects, just as there are many other careers you can have with a legal degree. By comprehending the origins of both names, one can more clearly appreciate the distinction between an attorney and a lawyer.

In addition, knowing the technical definitions of the terms helps to highlight the differences between a lawyer and an attorney, even though both titles refer to someone who has obtained legal education.

Attorney versus lawyer: Common requirements and definition

Two lawyers discussing the common requirement to become an attorney

An attorney is a word with French linguistic roots. Initially, it referred to someone who served as another person’s agent or deputy. Today, the word’s meaning has slightly (though not significantly) changed from that.

An attorney, sometimes known as an “attorney-at-law,” is a qualified lawyer who has passed the state bar exam and is authorized to represent clients in court, in other legal procedures, and provides legal advice specifically relevant to their case. 

Like conventional lawyers, they can also serve as advisors for businesses and people. To practise law in court for both civil and criminal cases, attorneys must abide by the standards of professional behaviour and a code of ethics as its members. 

The state authorizes an attorney-at-law to represent a client in court or bring criminal charges against those accused of breaching the law, also known as an attorney-at-law. Even though they are not synonyms, the terms “attorney” and “lawyer” are frequently used interchangeably due to their similarities. However, now that we are comparing the terms “attorney” and “lawyer,” we can notice some significant variances that define what each profession comprises.

Lawyer, the period which refers to a person who has received legal education and training, has Middle English roots. A law graduate who has completed law school is called a lawyer. 

However, passing the bar exam is necessary to practise law, give legal counsel, and assist in court. Legal advice from an unlicensed attorney is prohibited, and doing so can lead to criminal prosecution and other legal repercussions. With it, law graduates can only offer legal material if they assess how it might apply to a specific issue. 

If you are an Indian lawyer who wants to work abroad, then you must read about the requirements of practicing law in a foreign country. You need to clear the bar exam for example SQE exam in the case of UK and or multistate bar exam in case of USA. 

Attorney versus lawyer: what’s the difference? 

All attorneys are lawyers, but not all lawyers are attorneys. This indicates that while some tasks are reserved for lawyers, they are not necessarily part of their job description. One illustration is that not all lawyers are qualified to represent clients in court procedures and participate in legal proceedings. A lawyer cannot legally carry out this duty in their state if they haven’t obtained membership in their state bar organization or passed the bar test. Other differences concerning attorneys versus lawyers can be the level of education, roles and responsibility and pay grades discussed at length below. 

The differences in the functions and duties of the two professions are crucial to comprehend, just like the discrepancy between the definitions of lawyer and attorney. As previously said, both have formal legal education and training, but a fundamental distinction between an attorney and a lawyer is frequently how one uses their education and expertise.

Attorney:- You practise law in court as an attorney. An attorney must pass the bar test before they are allowed to practise law in a specific jurisdiction. Attorneys can practise in civil and criminal courts and, like lawyers, are bound by an ethical code. A licensed attorney may supervise a lawyer’s work at a law practice, or a lawyer may participate in an externship to gain experience. Most grads follow this route before passing the bar test. The test is challenging, necessitates extensive study, and typically lasts two to three days.

The attorney uses attorney-client privilege in her work as an attorney. This legal word refers to a legal privilege that protects the privacy of conversations between an attorney and a client. A legal demand for the communications, such as a request for discovery or a requirement that the attorney gives an oath of testimony, is met with an assertion of the privilege.

Lawyer:- Even though you must have passed the bar test and attended law school to be labelled a lawyer, you are not required to represent clients in court. Lawyers may serve in advisory or consulting capacities. Many decide to specialize in a particular area of law, such as estate, immigration, or tax law, where they can offer customers legal counsel. There are specialized growing fields that are in demand like Blockchain lawyers which advise on initial coin offering, different blockchain technologies and technology agreements

A transactional lawyer is one of the many different sorts of lawyers. A transactional lawyer advises people and businesses on the legal concerns brought on by their business activities. Many lawyers are drawn to this job because it is less combative than litigation.

A lawyer for a start-up is another category of attorney. A lawyer may assist you in structuring your start-up company, creating contracts and agreements, reviewing all licensing and regulatory requirements, and ensuring that you comply. A start-up lawyer can also assist with securing patents, trademarks, and copyrights to safeguard your ideas and intellectual property.


These two categories of legal professionals, i.e. attorneys and lawyers, have significant distinctions that have less to do with the type of education they receive and more with how it is applied. One of the essential distinctions between a lawyer and an attorney is the licences they hold, as we briefly mentioned above. Lawyers and attorneys will have graduated from law school, typically with a Juris Doctor (JD) degree or an LLB degree. Still, attorneys must also pass extra tests and obtain other certifications.

As previously said, there are no significant distinctions in the basic education levels between lawyers and attorneys. Still, legal experts frequently have a particular area of law in which they have the most incredible knowledge. For instance, the Master of Laws degree curriculum may emphasize environmental law, intellectual property and patent law, human rights law, or international law. Most law schools offer a thorough education in various legal areas, including intellectual property, criminal, family, corporate, business, civil rights, tax, bankruptcy, labour, and personal injury law.

Both lawyers and attorneys receive extra training in their areas of specialization and rarely change their specialities. An immigration lawyer, for instance, will require specialized training and experience to handle complex matters, including green cards, visas, obtaining citizenship, etc.

Roles and Responsibilities

An attorney’s primary responsibility is representing clients in court. However, an attorney has a wide range of additional duties and obligations. The general duties and obligations of an attorney are listed below.

  •  Participate in pretrial hearings and hearings to represent clients in a court of law.
  • Deliver legal assistance and direction.
  • Collect client retainers and sign contracts.
  • Advise clients on behaving appropriately while charges are pending, including using social media and confiding in loved ones.
  • Meet with clients in the remand facility or office to go over the charges in detail and plan the best course of action for defence.
  • Ethically addressing legal issues.
  • Communicate with customers to learn about their legal needs and concerns to give them essential advice.
  • Plan how to efficiently and favourably settle the clients’ legal issues.
  • Inform customers of their legal choices and ensure they know of any potential risks or consequences.
  • Elaborating compelling arguments and defending clients in civil and criminal court.
  • Maintaining knowledge of the law as it is.
  • Cultivate reliable connections with customers.
  • In a timely and accurate manner, prepare legal documents such as dispositions, pleadings, and contracts.
  • Assist clients in the execution of contracts, including plea deals.
  • Conduct research to compile relevant data for each client instance.

Though each of the duties and responsibilities listed is significant, some bear more significance than others, such as representing clients in all pretrial hearings and hearings. If an attorney cannot show, they may ask for a postponement or have another attorney appear on their behalf if permitted and with the client’s permission.

Salary Range 

Who gets paid more is frequently considered when determining whether to enter law school. Due to their bar membership, attorneys are legally more qualified than lawyers; however, it is unclear whether they are paid more.

This is because several positions are available for attorneys and lawyers, and each differs greatly depending on the individual’s location of practice, area of specialization, number of years of experience, and level of professional advancement.

Attorney versus lawyer and other legal professions

What are the various terms used for laws in different countries?

Solicitor- In the UK and other nations, a legal professional is sometimes called a “Solicitor.” These specialists’ responsibilities include advising clients, drafting paperwork, putting cases together for trial, and assisting with legal issues. A lawyer primarily deals with clients in administrative settings, though they may also appear in lesser courts.

Barrister– A lawyer responsible for advocating for their client’s interests in court is referred to as a “Barrister” in the UK. Barristers frequently deal with complicated issues when representing clients in court, tribunal, and other legal proceedings. However, barristers do not deal directly with clients; solicitors serve as a bridge between them and the parties they represent.

Esquire (Esq.)- An attorney who has passed the bar exam and thus possesses the licence issued by the state’s bar organization is referred to as Esquire (Esq.). It has the same value as a doctorate in other professions. It appears on resumes, business cards, and signatures. In addition, this title is also used in England for a male gentleman who is immediately beneath a knight.

Advocate- The term “advocate” has distinct meanings in various nations. The term “advocate” is frequently used in the United States interchangeably with terms like “attorney” and “lawyer,” and it has no particular legal connotation.

Counsel- Anyone who provides legal advice is referred to as legal counsel. Although “lawyer” and “attorney” are occasionally used synonymously, the phrase most frequently designates a person with legal training who works in-house for a business or organization.

Attorney-in-Fact- The only exception to the necessity of a law degree/JD degree and bar certification for attorneys is an attorney-in-fact. An attorney-in-fact is a person who another person has given a power of attorney; they are not required to have legal training to exercise their position.

Esq. vs J.D.: What are the differences?

A women learning about the difference in Esq and J.D

Esq. and J.D. are standard legal terms that imply various elements of a lawyer’s official credentials:


  •  “Esq.” is an acronym used for “Esquire” and is commonly used as a suffix after the name of a lawyer.
  •   It is generally a courtesy term which implies that the person is a licenced attorney;
  • It is frequently used in formal and professional circumstances, such as legal documents or while addressing correspondence to a lawyer.


  •  J.D. is the acronym for “Juris Doctor,” the normal degree offered to a person who has completed their legal study in the United States.
  •  The J.D. is required to take the bar test and become a licenced attorney.

 Attorney vs lawyer vs counsel: What are the differences?

Attorney, lawyer, and counsel are all unique legal terms used in different countries. The common differences between them have been underlined below:


  • An attorney is usually a legal professional who a bar organization authorizes to act in legal matters on behalf of their clients.
  • Attorneys have power of attorney, which generally enables them to represent their clients, make legal decisions, and sign legal papers; they can also fight for their client’s rights in court and even negotiate on their behalf and provide all possible legal advice.
  • Attorneys are generally held to a higher standard of professional and ethical responsibility. 


  •  A lawyer is usually a broad term for someone with a law degree licenced and allowed to practise law.
  •  Lawyers give legal advice, defend their clients in court, draft legal documents, and perform other legal tasks.
  •  While some lawyers also have the power of attorney, not all use it. 


  • Counsel is a legal expert who generally offers their clients specialized counsel and direction in a particular field of law.
  •  Counsel can work for a law firm, organization, or corporation and provide them with legal and strategic advice.
  • They frequently express their opinions by interpreting legislation and providing remedial advice to their clients or internal stakeholders.
  • Counsel may even work with attorneys and lawyers on challenging legal issues but may not represent clients in court.


Thus, the main distinction between a lawyer’s obligations and an attorney’s is that a lawyer typically has less experience and may not always represent clients in court. Comparatively speaking, attorneys are very skilled at defending their clients in court. A lawyer may do case studies and counsel clients on legal issues. Attorneys can assist clients at every stage of the legal procedure because they have the extra qualification of passing the bar exams. 

There are slight variations between the many legal jobs a lawyer can undertake, even though “lawyer” is a common term used to refer to several work functions in the legal industry. The way a lawyer and an attorney utilize their degree is the primary difference between them. A lawyer who has taken and passed the bar test is qualified to represent clients directly in court and communicate with judges.

We at LegaMart ensure that all the registered lawyers with us are licensed attorneys and specialized people in their legal field to ensure our clients get the best advice possible!

That’s about the qualification, however, is this enough to kick start your legal practice? Generally “YES” but technically you need work on various arenas of your legal practice including working on personal branding

Frequently asked question

Are attorneys and lawyers the same? 

Attorneys and lawyers are fundamentally the same thing. The individuals who have received a law degree, passed the bar test, and are licenced to practise law are referred to by both designations. While their usage may fluctuate slightly depending on geographical or cultural preferences, they are generally equivalent.

An attorney and a lawyer are usually distinguished by their unique roles and levels of authority. A lawyer is generally someone who has completed law school successfully and is authorized by a local bar organization to practise law and even provide legal advice and representation. On the other hand, an attorney is a lawyer to whom power of attorney is granted to act on behalf of clients in legal matters such as appearing in court, signing legal paperwork, and making legal decisions.

Is there is any difference between attorney at law vs lawyer?

An “attorney at law” is a legally authorized professional who can represent his clients in all the court procedures, and they are generally members of the local bar association and have passed the bar exam. On the other hand, “Lawyer” is a broader term that basically refers to anyone with a legal degree and license to practise law.

Explore the intersection of immigration and visas in Norway on our blog on Legamart.

Share this blog:


    Join LegaMart's community of exceptional lawyers

    Your global legal platform
    Personalised. Efficient. Simple.

    © 2023 LegaMart. All rights reserved. Powered by stripe