What is the Difference Between Lawyer and Attorney?
Gregg Hollander | January 19, 2022 | Personal Injury
It’s not uncommon for many inside and outside of the legal profession to use the words “lawyer” and “attorney” interchangeably. Even many attorneys will describe themselves as lawyers on their websites. They know that someone who doesn’t practice law may not know the historical difference between the two roles.
However, in the past, someone who was a lawyer was not necessarily an attorney. This brief overview will describe the historical difference between the two professions.
What is an Attorney?
Traditionally, you needed to meet certain criteria to qualify as an attorney. Specifically, a person needs to have graduated from law school and passed the Bar exam. They would receive their license to practice law if they met these criteria.
Passing the Bar exam was perhaps the main factor that differentiated attorneys from lawyers. Someone may have been a lawyer if they attended and graduated from law school. However, if they did not meet the full requirements to practice law in their state, they were not officially an attorney.
What is a Lawyer?
Not being licensed to practice law impacted the manner in which a lawyer could apply their knowledge of the law in a professional setting. The following are a few examples of some ways a lawyer could theoretically use their law school experience in the workplace:
- Reviewing legal documents
- Offering general legal advice
- Coordinating with attorneys (whether they be in-house counsel or outside parties) on a range of tasks
What lawyers couldn’t do was represent clients in court. To better understand the attorney vs. lawyer dynamic, consider the following example.
Perhaps someone is injured in a slip and fall accident on a business’ property. They can seek compensation for their medical bills and related losses by filing a claim or lawsuit if they can show that their accident was the result of negligence on the part of the business owner.
The injured party will benefit by enlisting the help of a legal professional when filing a claim. Said professional can assist them in such ways as:
- Conducting an investigation to gather evidence of negligence
- Documenting the extent of the injured party’s losses
- Filing a claim
- Negotiating with insurance companies
- Representing the injured party in court if the insurance company won’t offer a fair payout
These are all tasks that only an attorney can handle. A lawyer is not qualified to provide this type of representation.
Now, consider this situation from the perspective of the allegedly negligent business owner. Perhaps one of their high-ranking employees who has knowledge of the case has previously earned a law degree. It would not be appropriate or legal for said employee to represent them in the capacity of an attorney. However, when the initial claim is filed, they could conduct a general review of the case and provide informal advice on how to proceed. If the case goes to court, though, only an attorney can assist the business owner.
Under Florida law, practicing law without a license is a felony of the third degree. Someone guilty of this crime doesn’t even need to have actually taken on clients. If they publicly claim they are qualified to serve as an attorney, they have committed a serious crime.
It’s important to ask questions like “is an attorney and a lawyer the same thing” when you need legal representation after incidents such as car accidents, nursing home abuse, dog bites, and virtually any other incident resulting in harm to yourself or a loved one. You need to know the individual representing you has the necessary qualifications.
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