MUNDANE MYSTERIES: Lawyers Vs. Attorneys…Is There A Difference?

Since they’ve been in the news a lot lately, have you ever wondered if there’s actually a difference between an attorney & a lawyer?

As a general rule, the terms lawyer & attorney are pretty much interchangeable. Originally, the term “lawyer” was used generally for any person who’d been trained in the law. Some of America’s founding fathers are good examples of lawyers, men like John Adams & Thomas Jefferson.

While a lawyer is someone who’s studied & graduated from law school, they’re not necessarily seen as someone who’s passed the bar exam which would allow them to “practice law” before a court. Without a passing bar exam grade, you can’t be admitted to practice law in state or federal courts. The term “attorney at law” was created around 1768, as education in the U.S. improved & law became its own discipline. “Attorney at law”, which was later shortened to just “attorney”, was initially used to denote a professional qualified to give legal advice and/or represent a party in court.

Today, though, the terms attorney & lawyer are used interchangeably, mostly because the need for distinguishing the right to practice law became so well defined with the expansion of individual jurisdictions in our judicial system, and also because the qualifying degree today to sit for the bar exam is actually a professional doctorate degree (usually the Juris Doctorate).

There are some who graduate from law school but never even sit for the bar exam. And that’s okay: law degree is excellent to have for a lot of different areas of business & government, things other than the practice of law. So, while they’re interchangeable, you could also be a lawyer but not an attorney at law.

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