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What is the Difference Between a Lawyer and an Attorney?

By Carol Francois
Updated May 16, 2024
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In the United States, there is no difference between an attorney and a lawyer. The US has a united legal profession, meaning that there is no distinction between lawyers who try cases in court and those that do not. In most other countries, there is a clear difference between these two roles.

In Canada, England and Australia, the role of lawyer and attorney are quite different. These jurisdictions operate under common law. Within these countries, there are additional legal roles that do not exist in the US.

Attorney is a term not commonly used in Canada, England or Australia to describe people working in the legal profession. All three countries use the terms barrister or solicitor instead of attorney. They have slightly different roles in each of these countries.

In Canada, a lawyer is someone who is a civil law notary in Quebec or has been called to the bar. A common law lawyer in Canada is also known as a barrister or solicitor. Under Canadian law, there are no restrictions on the type of law that can be done by a lawyer.

In Australia, a lawyer is someone who is educated as a lawyer and is employed in this role. The term does not include people who are trained but not working as a lawyer. Lawyers can work in both private practice and in corporate law.

In England, the term lawyer applies to a range of positions that require legal training. These include barristers, legal executives, licensed conveyances, judges, court clerks, legal executives and people who draft laws. The level of legal education required for these positions is the key item required to use the title of "lawyer."

The term attorney is used interchangeably with lawyer in media in the US adding to the general confusion among the public. Although the public image of a lawyer is focused on trial work, most legal work involves research, filing motions and drafting documents. Trial work forms a very small part of the work done by lawyers and attorneys in the US.

Corporate, or transactional, attorneys or lawyers specialize in non-trial work. They spend their time drafting documents, working in litigation, writing opinions and providing dispute resolution guidance. They are also responsible for providing taxation guidelines and advice on business proposals.

Most states require lawyers to have completed a degree in professional law from an accredited university, in addition to passing the bar or licensing exam. In the state of Washington, you can become a lawyer by successfully completing the Rule Six Law Clerk program and working the required hours. The candidate is then eligible to take the bar exam and, upon successful completion, is a lawyer.

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Discussion Comments

By anon1005929 — On Dec 21, 2021

There are several differences between the 2 in the United States. First of all, a lawyer can't represent a client in a court and they have not passed the Bar exam.

By anon200944 — On Jul 28, 2011

Under certain circumstances, almost anyone can claim to be another person's attorney, since this term can be construed as "legal representative". I can legally go into an insurance company's office and make a payment on behalf of my mother, since I am conducting legal business on her behalf, and with her full knowledge and consent. An attorney does not necessarily have to be a legal professional.

A lawyer, on the other hand, is a trained legal professional. I cannot claim to be anyone's lawyer, since I do not have a law license and I am not recognized as a legal member of the court. Most people who conduct routine business on behalf of others probably wouldn't identify themselves as attorneys, but their actions would be recognized as legally binding by most agencies.

By anon154464 — On Feb 21, 2011

I don't stay in your country. Yet I think that you have no right to insult your country on the internet. It is you who constitute your country, and that *is* a responsibility.

By anon39588 — On Aug 03, 2009

First what are you guys doing about this issue regarding the kids and their parents. How can you point at the parents, when the general public pushed to pass a law that parents cannot touch their children. I don't think we should put the responsibility where it does not belong.

By GeordiKin — On Mar 06, 2009


Nah our country is headed down the toilet because we have people acting as inhumane humans, lawyers & politicos too. (yes they are human I have seen the blood tests...lol)

Most people of adult age take no responsibility for their actions or those of their children. Plus, it would seem that most parents are not teaching their children manners, or respect allowing them to do or say anything the child wants letting them be blemishes on society instead of holding the child to any type of accountability.

True we have narcissistic politicians who the public blindly trusts and follows like sheep, but we need to begin with our actions as humans then we can begin the task of finding politicians who actually do their appointed jobs properly.

Either we all begin to take responsibility for our part or someone may as well flush the toilet on what we have become as a society.

OK...I am stepping off the soapbox now....next

By dart318 — On Dec 22, 2008

this is why your country is down the toilet.

lawyers and politicians.

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