In the United States, the terms lawyer and attorney are often used interchangeably. The terms are used as a synonym for each other in lay and colloquial language. However, both lawyers and attorneys must adhere to strict educational requirements and ethical guidelines and should be trained to do so before practicing law in court.
Differences in Roles and Duties
The distinction between the responsibilities of an attorney vs a lawyer is not always clear. Both lawyers and attorneys are formally trained and educated in law, but their roles rarely overlap. Lawyers generally work for law firms or in-house at companies and organizations, and help to create, manage and advise on documents that relate to legal issues. Attorneys practice law on behalf of clients, often giving legal advice about specific problems or situations.
Lawyers are expert advisors on legal matters. Though many lawyers choose to practice law in court, you don’t have to practice law in court to be considered a lawyer. Lawyers may take on roles as consultants or advisors. Many choose to practice in a specialized field such as estate law, immigration law, or tax law, where they often give legal advice to clients.
As an attorney, you can practice law in a variety of settings such as: private law firms, government lawyers or public defenders. You may also practice in legal education or in other areas of professional responsibility. Like lawyers, attorneys are required to abide by a code of ethics and may practice in both civil and criminal courts.
Attorney vs Lawyer vs Counsel
Both attorney and lawyer are formal terms for a person who has received a legal degree from an accredited educational institution. However, there are key distinctions between the roles and duties of lawyers and attorneys in practice.
Attorneys and lawyers are not the same thing, though they are often confused because each are educated and trained in law. The primary difference between the two professions is understanding the role of each in handling legal matters.
Lawyers who practice in a certain area of law and practice law as their profession are commonly known as attorneys. However, many other lawyers also have areas of expertise and devote substantial time to them outside of their legal practice.
Attorneys are people who have passed the lawyer bar exam, and are therefore allowed to practice law in court. Lawyers can be attorneys, or not (they may practice law, or not). A counsel is a person who provides legal advice, usually for a company or organization. The terms are often used interchangeably in everyday speech.