Difference Between Lawyer And Attorney

Most people use the words “lawyer” and “attorney” interchangeably. But the way people use words doesn’t always reflect their true meaning. Legal vocabulary is often complex and specific, which leads to the question of whether the two words mean the same thing or something quite different.

What Does The American Bar Association Say?

According to the American Bar Association (ABA), a lawyer (also known as an attorney, counsel, or counselor) is “a licensed professional who advises and represents others in legal matters.”

In other words, the organization that accredits those in the legal profession considers lawyers and attorneys to be identical. For many people, and most dictionaries, that answers the question definitively.

Is There Any Meaningful Difference?

While there’s technically no difference between the two terms, many firms and other entities make a clear distinction between them. One differentiating factor tends to be whether the person in question represents their client at trial or outside the courtroom.

Someone in the legal profession who typically works outside the courtroom is commonly referred to as a lawyer. Lawyers often perform legal activities like:

  • Writing and proofreading contracts
  • Filing paperwork to set up or maintain corporations
  • Creating wills and trusts
  • Assisting with applications for trademarks

Conversely, attorneys are generally understood to work in the courtroom, performing activities like:

  • Presenting evidence to juries in criminal defense cases
  • Arguing appeals before a panel of judges
  • Contesting traffic violations
  • Suing negligent parties in personal injury claims

It’s important to note that these terms aren’t set in stone, and there are many inconsistencies on display.

For example, attorneys with extensive courtroom experience often describe themselves as “trial lawyers.” Despite this, if someone exclusively refers to themself as either a lawyer or an attorney, it’s probably due to how much time they spend in the courtroom.

Many others ascribe a very specific meaning to the terms “lawyer” and “attorney.” According to these people, while anyone who has graduated from law school can be called a lawyer, the title “attorney” can only be applied if they pass the bar and are licensed to practice in their state. Therefore, all attorneys are lawyers, but not all lawyers and attorneys.

According to the ABA, this is a misconception. Even so, it’s a common misconception that might come up when you’re seeking a licensed legal professional to represent you. 

Non-Courtroom Proceedings

If lawyers tend to work behind the scenes and attorneys spend more time in the courtroom, what’s the term for a legal professional who handles non-trial procedures like Title IX or arbitration hearings? It’s an interesting question because, in some ways, these hearings resemble trials.

There’s no definitive answer. Any legal professional may or may not feel comfortable in these settings. Trial lawyers likely have more experience presenting evidence or, in the case of a Title IX hearing, arguing for their clients in front of a panel. Clerical lawyers, conversely, may have more experience with contracts, which is important in arbitration hearings.

If you need legal counsel, the title isn’t important.

What matters is that you choose a legal professional who can represent your interests effectively.

If you need someone with significant trial experience, don’t concern yourself with whether they refer to themselves as a lawyer or an attorney. Instead, ask them about their track record and consider their answer carefully to decide whether they can meet your needs.

For more information, please contact the Providence criminal defense law firm of Manosh Payette Criminal Defense Attorneys for a free consultation, give us a call at (401) 854-7794 or visit our convenient location:

Manosh Payette Criminal Defense Attorneys – Providence Criminal Defense Attorney
101 Dyer St Suite 2D, Providence, RI 02903, United States