Attorney vs. Lawyer: What’s the Difference?
While browsing law firm websites, you may come across two different terms to describe a legal professional: attorney and lawyer. Although technical differences do exist between the words attorney and lawyer, most in the industry use them interchangeably. Learn the definitions of attorney, lawyer and prosecutor to make better sense of things during your research.
What Is an Attorney?
An attorney specifically refers to someone that represents others. An attorney-at-law represents clients in a courtroom setting. You may also see them bear the title trial attorneys. Attorneys-at-law act as agents for their clients during courtroom and trial processes, as well as settlement negotiations. They speak on behalf of clients to pursue financial compensation, a settlement or a certain criminal verdict. Attorneys-at-law generally have trial experience and are not afraid of taking claims to court.
The original definition of the word attorney dates back to France. It refers to someone acting as a deputy or agent for another. Therefore, attorney does not necessarily have to denote a licensed legal professional. It can also refer to someone without legal training who is acting on behalf of someone else. You could assign your spouse to be your power of attorney, for example, to make decisions for you if you become incapacitated. In general, people use the words attorney and attorney-at-law to reference licensed legal professionals.
What Is a Lawyer?
A lawyer is someone with legal training; typically, it takes seven years of schooling after graduating high school to receive a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree. Lawyers generally have Juris Doctors from law schools with American Bar Association accreditation. Most lawyers focus on one or a few main practice areas in school, such as personal injury or criminal defense. That way they can receive special legal training to help certain clientele upon graduating
Lawyers do not necessarily have to represent other people. They may simply offer legal counsel based on their professional educations, without taking the client. A person does even not have to pass law school to refer to him or herself as a lawyer. Technically, anyone with training in the legal field constitutes a lawyer, based on the original Middle English definition of the term. However, for the most part, a lawyer has a license to practice law, like an attorney.
Can You Use the Terms Interchangeably?
Both attorneys and lawyers are people with legal training and J.D. degrees. They both possess state licenses to practice law. They can both provide legal counsel and representation during law trials. For practical reasons, courts and clients use these two terms interchangeably, since they essentially mean the same thing. However, on a technical level, the main difference is that an attorney acts as a representative, while a lawyer has legal training.
Searching for an attorney vs. lawyer will typically come up with the same results. You will find a list of legal professionals operating in your area. Narrow down your search results by adding your desired practice area, such as premises liability or medical malpractice. You should not worry about searching for an attorney vs. a lawyer since most firms and their websites take the terms to mean the same thing. Search engines will take both terms to have the same meaning.
What Is a Prosecutor?
Prosecutor is another common legal term you may encounter while researching a lawyer or attorney. A prosecutor is a government entity with the authority to press criminal charges against a suspect. Prosecutors are also attorneys, but they represent the government during criminal cases. Chief prosecutors often take the name District Attorney in counties in California. A special prosecutor is a non-government attorney the government may appoint to investigate internal infractions.