What's the Difference Between an Attorney and a Lawyer?

What’s the Difference Between an Attorney and a Lawyer?

Do you know what an attorney is? Or a lawyer? Many people think these words mean the same thing. But there are some key differences between being an attorney and being a lawyer. 

Knowing the distinctions between an attorney and a lawyer can help you better understand the legal help you need. 

What Is a Lawyer?

A lawyer is someone who has completed law school and earned a law degree. This degree is called a Juris Doctor, or J.D. Getting a J.D. usually takes three full years of study after finishing college.

In law school, students take many classes to gain legal knowledge. 

Law school classes include:

  • Constitutional Law – Understanding the U.S. Constitution
  • Contracts – Writing agreements between people or companies
  • Torts – Harmful actions like accidents that cause injury
  • Civil Procedure – The rules for legal cases between people or organizations
  • Criminal Law – Laws related to crimes and punishment
  • Family Law – Divorce, child custody, child support
  • Legal Writing – Drafting documents, including contracts and court motions

Law school students also learn how to conduct legal research into case law and statutes. Graduating from an accredited law school makes someone a lawyer. These graduates can now seek jobs where they use their legal education.

Examples of jobs for lawyers include:

  • Working in law enforcement or government
  • Being a consultant who advises companies on legal issues
  • Teaching law or working in a law library
  • Working in the legal department of a corporation

Lawyers may give general legal information and guidance based on their school studies. But, they cannot provide specific legal advice to clients or represent them in court. This is because lawyers do not have a license to actively practice law. 

What Is an Attorney?

An attorney is a type of lawyer who has earned the right to practice law by passing additional exams beyond law school.

After finishing their J.D. degree, a lawyer who wants to become an attorney must take the bar exam.

In addition to passing the bar exam, lawyers must meet other requirements before becoming licensed attorneys. This includes passing an ethics exam and a review of their background and character.

Once a lawyer completes all steps, they are admitted to the state bar. This means the state has officially given them a license to practice law. At this point, a lawyer is considered a licensed attorney.

What Can Attorneys Do?

As licensed attorneys, they can now:

  • Give direct legal advice and opinions to individual clients
  • Represent clients in court hearings and legal proceedings
  • Draft important legal documents including wills, trusts, and contracts
  • Set up their own private law firms and take on clients
  • Negotiate legal settlements and agreements between parties

Attorneys must follow strict ethics rules set by their state bar associations. If attorneys break these rules, they risk losing their license to practice law.

Differences in Titles

Only licensed attorneys can use the title Esquire (Esq.) after their name. Both lawyers and attorneys who earn a J.D. can use the title Doctor. But most just list their name, followed by Esquire, to indicate that they are a practicing attorney.

Attorneys have more legal authority than lawyers who still need to pass the bar. If you need legal help with a court hearing or case-specific advice, you should work with a licensed attorney. They have met all the requirements to represent clients fully.

For legal jobs, including research, consulting, or teaching, a lawyer can still use their law background to help. Remember to check if someone is a licensed attorney before hiring them for court appearances or case-specific counsel. Knowing the difference between lawyers and attorneys will ensure you work with the right legal professional.

If you need to hire someone for a court hearing or other legal matter, consult a licensed attorney. 

Contact an Experienced Divorce Attorney at Minor Law Divorce Lawyers for Legal Advice

To learn more and get the help you deserve, call our divorce & family law firm Minor Law Divorce Lawyers in Rock Hill, SC at (803) 504-0971 or contact us online today.
You can also visit our law firm at 1273 Ebenezer Rd, Suite B, Rock Hill, SC 29732.

We serve throughout York County.