Is a Lawyer the Same as an Attorney?

Many people may wonder is a lawyer the same as an attorney. Generally speaking, the terms are used interchangeably and mean the same thing, with only some minor differences in the definition. The following is an exploration of what exactly these terms mean and how that affects both the general public and prospective law students.

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Lawyers Are Trained In Law

To be a lawyer, one simply has to have gone to law school. They may not necessarily be working as a practicing attorney, nor may they be licensed to actually practice law if they have not passed the all-important bar exam. A law degree is useful not just to become a lawyer but also in many other areas of business, non-profit and government work. Some students get a law degree without the intention of becoming an attorney in the hope it will improve their career prospects in other areas, although this is generally recommended against. Some former attorneys may have moved on to other work and let their law license expire, meaning they are no longer technically attorneys but lawyers. These circumstances are not as common but they do exist.

Attorney Is Short For Attorney-At-Law

Attorney is actually short for the designation attorney-at-law. In the early days of the United States, there was an effort to keep its meaning strictly separate from that of a lawyer, although such efforts were short-lived. The distinctions between the two terms, as well as other, related terms, differ and are more important in other countries, such as England. This is not really an issue today as the American Bar Association made it illegal for anyone who is not licensed to practice law to call themselves either an attorney or a lawyer, in order to prevent confusion among the public.

Is a Lawyer the Same as an Attorney

The Terms Are Used Interchangeably

In the United States, these two terms are used interchangeably and more or less mean the same thing, especially among the general public. In the legal field, the distinction does matter, but for an attorney actually practicing law, it does not make a difference in which term is used to refer to them. It is going to matter more for a lawyer who has legal training but does not actually practice law, no matter their circumstance or reason for doing so. These individuals usually just put J.D., which stands for Juris doctorate and is the technical term for a law degree, after their names to signify their education.

Becoming Either

Both lawyers and attorneys are required to hold a bachelor’s degree. The subject is not particularly important, although there are pre-law programs and using an undergraduate major to enhance a planned legal specialty is a good move. They then need to have an additional three years of law school. To be licensed as a practicing attorney by the American Bar Association and in any given state, they must attend an ABA-approved law program. When wondering is a lawyer the same as an attorney, know that they need to have the same educational background to call themselves either of those terms.

In the United States, these two terms mean practically the same thing. Although there is a small technical difference, the ABA has ensured that difference has no real legal standing. Hopefully, this has clarified is a lawyer the same as an attorney.