Lawyer vs Attorney: What’s the Difference?

When people think of a lawyer vs attorney, many people assume they’re the same thing. Don’t worry if you use both words interchangeably, as you won’t get funny looks if you do so. However, you may want to choose your words more carefully around a law specialist.

One legal professional can legally represent clients. The other can only serve in an advisory role.

Who do they work for? Both legal professionals will work for you.

They serve their client’s interests alone. They’re bound by attorney-client privilege and cannot reveal sensitive information to outside parties.

That said, you must know which type of legal professional will best serve your interests.

This article will explain the differences between attorneys and lawyers in greater detail. Let’s explore.

What Is a Lawyer?

A lawyer is a legal professional who has legal training but cannot practice law. Their role is mostly relegated to legal advice. They can provide guidance based on their area of expertise.

When graduating from law school, they can give legal advice to their clients. Since they didn’t take the bar exam, however, they cannot represent clients in court. For example, they can advise you on criminal matters, but they cannot defend you in court.

That said, you’ll find lawyers who have taken the bar exam. On the other hand, some lawyers forgo the bar exam and prefer an advisory role alone.

In many cases, a client doesn’t need an attorney to represent them in court. The following cases typically don’t require court representation:

  • If you want to draft a prenuptial agreement
  • If you need advice on intellectual property protection
  • If you need someone to interpret a business agreement
  • If you need advice on tax issues
  • If you need help with immigration matters (i.e. green cards or asylum cases)
  • If you must create a will or living trust

Additionally, lawyers can become company consultants or government advisors.

On the other hand, a lawyer can represent you if they file a special motion with the court. They can also apply using a special application. If approved, this form allows them to practice without bar exam credentials. Except for these two factors, lawyers cannot represent clients whatsoever.

If they engage in representation without the necessary credentials, they could be subject to criminal penalties.

In Pennsylvania, for example, this crime amounts to a third-degree misdemeanor. Repeat offenses can carry first-degree misdemeanor charges.

What Is an Attorney?

An attorney is an officer of the court. This means they can represent clients and argue on their behalf. Upon passing the bar exam, they can practice law in their jurisdiction.

They can also advise on civil or criminal matters. The type of advice given depends on their specialty.

You may encounter a general-practice attorney who doesn’t have a particular specialty. If you need expertise, however, a specialist is your best option.

If you need help with immigration matters, hire an immigration attorney. An immigration attorney will provide advice and represent you in an immigration court. An attorney can also represent you in the following ways:

  • If you’re the victim of a DUI accident
  • If you’re an injured worker who was unjustly denied workers’ comp insurance
  • If you sustained an injury due to negligence
  • If you were the victim of police abuse or harassment
  • If an insurance company denied your claim without just cause

Overall, an attorney is the best option in any case where you’re seeking financial compensation. Many make the mistake of hiring a lawyer for legal advice, only to later represent themselves in court.

You stand a  much higher chance of winning your case with an attorney present. Above all, they can help you craft a stronger defense. Further, they can argue your case within the confines of the law.

More importantly, attorneys will handle most of the legal work. Therefore, you won’t have to burden yourself with the drudgeries of legal jargon and court procedure.

What are the Qualifications for Each?

Attorneys and lawyers must have the same pre-qualifications. First, they both need a bachelor’s degree, and the degree doesn’t need to be law-focused. However, pre-law students tend to major in political science, English, business, or history. Besides academia, many law students volunteer at law firms or become TAs.

Conversely, experts recommend taking courses that engage your critical thinking skills, such as science and math. Moreover, many law students take debate classes to sharpen their argumentative acumen.

Then, lawyers and attorneys must apply to law school. Before getting in, they must take an exam called the Law School Administration Test (LSAT). If they pass, students will proceed to study for three years.

After three years, they will earn Juris Doctor (J.D.), which allows them to practice law. Special law degrees can include real estate law, environmental law, civil rights law, immigration law, or criminal law.

Additionally, students can earn joint degrees, especially if they want to specialize in multiple fields. After obtaining the degrees, a lawyer can act as an advisor. If that lawyer wants to become an attorney, they can take the bar exam.

Lawyer vs Attorney: Which is the Right Choice for Me?

When it comes to a lawyer vs attorney, choose a lawyer if you need legal advice. A lawyer is ideal if you don’t need legal representation in court.

If you’re facing a court case, an attorney is a preferred choice. They can legally represent you in court, whereas lawyers cannot. Regardless, both legal professionals can provide advice on settlement loans.

Want to know how settlement loans work? Click here to learn more.


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