What's the difference between an attorney and a lawyer?

As a rule, in the United States the terms lawyer and attorney are interchangeable.

Now for the hard answer. It’s hard because we have to go back a bit in history to understand the distinctions. The term “lawyer” was generally used to refer to any person who has studied and been trained in the law. The lawyers of the early US nationhood are a good example. Someone like John Adams or Thomas Jefferson were not only leaders of the American Revolution but they also were lawyers.

An interesting note on Adams career is that he actually provided a learned, principled and successful defense of the British Soldiers accused of crimes arising from the “Boston Massacre.” His reason was the same that many criminal defense attorneys cite today for their own careers. Every person, no matter how they are seen by the general public, deserves a zealous and competent defense (something we now find in the 6th Amendment of the Constitution).

As education in the US improved, and law began to become its own discipline, the term attorney at law (also attorney-at-law) was created around 1768. For a short time there was an effort to distinguish to two terms. The lawyer was one who studied and graduated after studying law, however, they were not necessarily seen as someone who had passed the bar; therefore they did not “practice law” before a court.
Even today we see that one can graduate from an American law school, thus becoming a lawyer, but not passing the bar exam. Without the passing score on the bar exam one can’t be admitted to practice law in the jurisdiction (state or federal).

The attorney at law, which was later shortened to just attorney, was used in some instances to mean a professional who is qualified to give legal advice and to represent a party in court.
Eventually, the early form of the law degree (which was considered a professional degree much like that for the ministry or medicine) evolved to a point that it would require a much higher level of education in order to be reasonably qualified.

Today, the terms attorney and lawyer are used interchangeably, mostly because the need to distinguish the right to practice law became so well defined with the expansion of the individual jurisdictions judicial system and also because the qualifying degree today to sit for the bar exam is a professional doctorate degree; usually the Juris Doctorate or JD.

There are still those who graduate from law school but never sit for the bar exam. The law degree is an excellent degree which can be used in many areas of business and government work other than the practice of law. Thus, the concept that one is a lawyer by virtue of the law degree still exists, it is just not enforced at enthusiastically as in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

This information was taken from Quora. Click here to view the original post.

Did you know about the slight difference between a lawyer and attorney outside the U.S.?

#Society #Quora


What are your thoughts on this subject?
John Shepherd
No matter what you call them, they all went to law school to learn how to steal
Apr 4, 2020 12:04PM
Fred Mayes
JOKE: How many lawyers does it take to grease a combine? I don't know, how many? It only takes one, but you have to feed it in very slow.
Sep 28, 2021 10:48AM
Robert Improta
Brian Howe, Thanks for using that saved me from doing it!😁
Oct 19, 2020 5:14PM
I always wondered about this--thank you for a very clear explanation!
Mar 27, 2020 7:40PM
I often wondered about that!
Feb 15, 2020 4:36PM
I knew this distinction.
Jan 23, 2020 4:57PM
Thank you for the good information
Jan 15, 2020 10:17PM
So, I guess all attorneys are lawyers,but not all lawyers are attorneys?
Sep 23, 2019 5:08PM
Irma Rivera
So it would be a great idea to ask the attorney to show us the bar exam certification!!! It won't hurt us to do that and if the attorney have nothing to hide he'll certainly be glad to show it to us!!!
Sep 22, 2019 6:16PM
moonstone nj
Yes, both are perceived as corrupt until you actually need one, then they are your best pal (a very expensive best pal though)!!??
Sep 15, 2019 6:02AM
Leslie Clive Bedford
What about the British terms Solicitor and Barrister.
Sep 11, 2019 3:20AM
Cheryl McMeekin
Most of them are corrupt, only a few that actually want to help people in need.
Sep 4, 2019 4:53PM
Lawrence Jordan
There is no difference.They are both amoral parasites.
Sep 1, 2019 8:30AM
ann garton
Good background.👍
Aug 7, 2019 5:35PM
Frank Venice
A lawyer practices law; an attorney practices in Court.
Jul 28, 2019 4:40PM

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