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What are Differences Between an Attorney and Lawyer?

Ehline Law, the injury victim's Friend
Injury lawyer Michael Ehline of Ehline Law Firm.

Ok. This difference in this distinction is a question few people don’t ask since they seem to mean the same thing. But are they? The two terms are used interchangeably by many professions and laypeople after all. However, there is a need to remember there are differences that could affect your interactions with the courts.

  • As a consumer, you need to protect yourself, even when you are seeking the help of someone to champion your legal interests.
  • You have to make sure they even have the legal authority to represent you at all!

After all, in law, as with many important things, when you have differences that could seem minute, but could make a significant difference in your case, you want to make sure that you are prepared! Having someone represent you who is not fully qualified, is clearly against your best interest.

Those trained in the field of law are often called “lawyers.” In some cases, people train in law includes paralegals, although they are not normally people who have read the law, or attended law school. So it is doubtful they could call themselves lawyers absent that special education. In any event, I think it is pretty clear that a paralegal is NOT a lawyer.

A lawyer, defined below as:

A person learned in the law; as an attorney, counsel, or solicitor. Any person who, for fee or reward, prosecutes or defends causes in courts of record or other judicial tribunals of the United States, or of any of the states, or whose business it is to give legal advice in relation to any cause or matter whatever. Act of July 13, 1800. (See Infra.)

At the other end of the spectrum is the “attorney.”  This legal beagle is someone licensed by the state bar to practice law and represent their clients. So this means that attorneys are held to a high standard and have all of the prerequisite training and expertise needed to handle many types of cases.

In the most general sense this term denotes an agent or substitute, or one who is appointed and authorized to act in the place or stead of another. In re Ricker, 60 N. H. 207, 29 Atl. 559, 24 L. R. A. 740; Eichelberger v. Sifford, 27 Md. 320. It is “an ancient English word, and signifies one that is set in the turn, stead, or place of another; and of these some be private * * * and some be [public], as attorneys at law.” Co. Litt. 516, 128a; Britt 2856. . . (See Infra.)

What is an Esquire?

Esquire often follows an attorney’s name as a title. Esquire in the United States most often means that an attorney has passed the bar of that particular state, but not always. Of course, our founders looked upon titles of nobility as a potentially dangerous thing.

In other countries, including the United Kingdom the “Esq.” after a name may be used for other educational titles. There, the attorneys are called barristers or solicitors. In any event, knowing whether or not the person that you are contacting is prepared for the job ahead of them is of vital importance.

If you think that these distinctions do not make a difference, it could lead you in the wrong direction. Making sure that you have an advocate with the correct level of legal training could make all the difference when being represented in and out of court, or in negotiations. Don’t cut any corners or allow an unqualified individual to take on your case. The wrong choice could affect you for the rest of your life. When in doubt, contact a real attorney with a name in good standing with the state bar.


Black’s Law Dictionary – “Attorney” defined Here.

Black’s Law Dictionary – “Lawyer,” defined Here.

Michael Ehline - PI Law Tutorials

Michael Ehline is a highly trained personal injury attorney in Los Angeles, CA. He writes educational articles to help injured consumers.

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