While often used interchangeably, there is a difference between a lawyer and an attorney. Both attorneys and lawyers are legal professionals that graduated from law school. However, attorneys and lawyers often have different roles, responsibilities, and tasks that they are permitted to perform.
The following are common fields of law that attorneys and lawyers may work in:
- Family law
- Real estate law
- Personal injury law
- Government affairs
- Civil rights law
- Criminal law
- Intellectual property law
- Immigration law
- Corporate law
- Tax law
- Environmental law
- Employment law
Regardless of the job title, there are several paths to take in the legal profession for both attorneys and lawyers.
What is an Attorney?
The term “attorney” is an abbreviated form of the formal title “attorney at law.” Attorneys are legal professionals who have graduated from law school, earned a Juris Doctor, passed the bar exam, and are admitted to practice law in their state. They are licensed to argue in a court of law and can take on many roles.
An attorney is licensed to do the following:
- Represent clients in court and other legal proceedings
- Advise clients regarding litigation matters
- Draft pleadings and other legal documents
- Provide consultation
- Interpret federal and state laws for clients
- Conduct legal research and investigate the details of a case
Attorneys are bound by the attorney-client privilege. This legal privilege requires that attorneys keep any confidential communications with their clients private. If a discovery request is made, your attorney can assert that attorney-client privilege is applicable.
Be mindful that this privilege only exists if there is an actual attorney-client relationship. There is also no attorney-client privilege if you communicate with your attorney in front of a third party.
After initially consulting with an attorney and deciding to hire them, your attorney will discuss attorney’s fees with you. Attorney’s fees are the amount that your attorney bills you for the legal services they provide. These fees could be hourly, on a contingency fee basis, or a flat fee.
Regardless of the billing arrangement, your attorney should set forth their fee in a fee agreement.
What is a Lawyer?
A lawyer is someone who graduated from law school, earned a Juris Doctor, but has not yet passed the bar exam. Failure to pass the bar exam prevents a lawyer from being licensed to practice law in their state or represent clients in court.
However, lawyers are legal professionals who may provide legal information. Many lawyers choose to work as consultants or government advisors.
Those who have not passed the bar exam can still pursue productive legal careers. There are several different types of lawyers. Some choose to work as transactional lawyers, start-up business lawyers, or under the supervision of a licensed attorney at a law firm.
A lawyer working at a start-up company can take on many roles, including reviewing licensing and regulatory guidelines, making contracts, drafting agreements, and ensuring that the company is in compliance.
Some lawyers choose to take a job at a law firm while they continue to study for the bar exam. Once a lawyer takes and successfully passes the bar exam, they can then become an attorney upon getting licensed.
It is important to note that an attorney is permitted to do anything that a lawyer can do. Conversely, a lawyer could be held liable for attempting to represent a client in court as an attorney would. If you are unsure whether a legal professional is a licensed attorney, the state’s licensing agency can provide that information.
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