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What Is the Difference between an Attorney, Lawyer, Barrister, and Esquire?

By Cathy Rogers
Updated May 16, 2024
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Perhaps no other profession has as many variations in titles than that of lawyer. The titles attorney, lawyer, barrister and Esquire are frequently used, sometimes interchangeably, in the field of law. However, by definition, each has a unique meaning.

Generally speaking, an attorney, or attorney-at-law, is a person who is a member of the legal profession. An attorney is qualified and licensed to represent a client in court. By most definitions, an attorney may act on the client’s behalf and plead or defend a case in legal proceedings. The English word attorney has French origins, where it meant “a person acting for another as an agent or deputy.”

A lawyer, by definition, is someone who is trained in the field of law and provides advice and aid on legal matters. Because a lawyer also conducts suits in court proceedings and represents clients in various legal instances, the term has expanded to overlap the definition of attorney. In the U.S., attorney and lawyer are normally considered synonyms. The term lawyer has Middle English roots.

In the U.K, even more job titles are used in the field of law; there are barristers and solicitors, among others. A barrister generally performs trial work, especially in the higher courts, and does not deal directly with clients. A solicitor, on the other hand, speaks with clients, prepares documents and may appear as an advocate in a lower court.

Finally, Esquire is a title sometimes used by attorneys. When used, it follows the attorney’s full name, and is most often an abbreviation, Esq. It is an honorary title that has little meaning in the U.S. today and is even somewhat controversial. The term Esquire has English roots, where it was considered an honorary title and originally referred only to males. It is now used as a professional title, similar to the use of Dr. or Ph.D.

In the U.S., each state administers the exam required to license attorneys. The American Bar Association is a voluntary, professional organization to which many attorneys belong.

Barrister vs Lawyer

While the word "lawyer" in the U.S. and Canada is a general term referring to any person who has the appropriate academic degree and is licensed to practice law, a barrister in the U.K. is a more specialized job description. In many ways, English barristers are most similar to U.S. trial lawyers; unlike other legal professionals in the U.K., they can argue a case before a judge and jury. They also have what is known as the "right of audience" before the country's higher courts, meaning they can present cases and conduct proceedings. Solicitors, on the other hand, can only appear in county or magistrates courts except under special conditions. (Since 1999, U.K. law has also made an exception for solicitors who are employees of a private company.) Another distinction between a barrister and a lawyer: under U.K. law, a barrister must be a sole practitioner and is not allowed to form partnerships or work for a corporate legal department.

In the U.S., virtually anyone can argue a case in court, even if they don't have a law degree. However, this rarely happens (and the case almost never goes well for the layperson attorney). Nonetheless, if a tax or contract lawyer has a client who wants them to serve as their counsel in court, there are no rules preventing them. The reality is that while a tax lawyer may be called upon to provide testimony or serve as an expert, he or she will leave the actual court proceedings and arguments to an experienced trial lawyer. A U.S. trial lawyer may also be a sole practitioner or be employed by a law firm.

Attorney vs Lawyer

If "lawyer" is a general term, "attorney" is even more so; its definition goes beyond that of a licensed legal professional. While all lawyers serve as attorneys as they represent another person's legal interests, not every attorney is a lawyer. Most people have encountered the term "power of attorney" (usually abbreviated as POA). This means that one person has been granted the authority to make decisions on part of another. That person is known as the "attorney in fact," meaning they have the legal right to act on behalf of the party who appointed them.

When one or more individuals grant POA to another individual, it usually means that someone is incapable of making their own decisions. For example, Joe has his lawyer draw up a "Do Not Resuscitate" (DNR) order in case he is rendered unconscious by an injury or illness. In such a situation, the person who has been granted POA then has the duty to enforce the DNR by informing medical personnel that the patient does not wish to be kept alive with artificial means. Another situation arises when an aging parent suffers from dementia. A younger family member( such as an adult son or daughter) must be prepared to handle the parent's affairs, and have the legal authority to do so.

In order to grant POA to a second party, a person must be of sound mind at the time the agreement is drawn up. Although any layperson can have power of attorney, legal documents must be drawn up by an estate lawyer or family law practitioner, then signed by all parties, and notarized.

Esquire vs Attorney

A small handful of attorneys in the U.S. add the title "esquire" after their names, but these days, it is little more than a formality. In England, esquire was a minor honorific, granted to members of the landed gentry who were higher on the social pecking order than "gentlemen," but had not yet achieved knighthood. In his 1826 tome, Commentaries on the Laws of England, jurist and politician William Blackstone wrote, "The title [esquire] should be limited to those only who bear an office of trust under the Crown."

In the U.S. during the first half of the 20th Century, esquire was a minor honorific, used primarily in formal written correspondence, i.e., business and law. However, it was only used in the address and the signature.

In the U.S., attorneys are the only people who use the title of esquire; however, it is not known exactly why this should be. It was more common prior to the 1970s. This is a clue as to why the title esquire has fallen out of fashion; historically, it has been used by and applied exclusively to men, and is often considered sexist. Beyond that, it is simply a title of respect (or pomposity, depending on one's perspective).

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between a lawyer and an attorney?   

Although common parlance may use either lawyer or attorney interchangeably, there is a nuanced distinction between the two. A lawyer is a person who has gone to and graduated from law school. They might not have taken and passed the bar test needed to practice law in your state. While lawyers are able to offer advise, they are not able to actually represent clients in court unless they have also obtained the appropriate licensing. On the other hand, an attorney is someone who has gone through the necessary training and examinations to practice law and represent clients in court. To become an attorney, one must first pass the bar examination in the state or territory in which they intend to practice law.

Hence, while all lawyers can be classified as attorneys, not all attorneys can be classified as lawyers.

What is the difference between a lawyer and a barrister?  

When referring to someone who works in the legal field, the term "lawyer" is often used as a catchall. Barristers, on the other hand, are a subset of attorneys who are able to represent clients in court. The terms "lawyer" and "attorney" are synonymous in certain nations, such as the United States, but in others, such as the United Kingdom, there are clear distinctions between them. Advocates who have earned the title of "barrister" in the United Kingdom are qualified to practice law before the highest courts in that country. Sometimes referred to simply as "advocates," these professionals operate independently by taking on matters presented to them by solicitors or by clients themselves.

In contrast, British solicitors are responsible for advising clients, drafting legal documents, and appearing in subordinate courts on their behalf. Their scope of practice is larger than that of barristers, and they deal with matters such as buying and selling property legally. Solicitors give legal advice, produce documents, and represent clients in lesser courts, whereas barristers specialize in advocating for their clients in the highest courts.

Why do some people call lawyers "esquires"?   

In any situation, a lawyer is addressed as either an attorney or an esquire. But "attorney" can be used to describe any legal professional, while "esquire" is usually only used to describe people who are licensed to practice law in a certain state or territory. In contrast to an attorney, who just meets the requirements to practice law, an esquire has actually been admitted to the local bar.

A lawyer and a barrister have distinct roles in the legal system, but what are they?

There is a significant difference between a barrister and a lawyer. Unlike the more general term "lawyer," which refers to someone who is knowledgeable about the law, "barrister" refers specifically to lawyers who practice in the courtroom. While lawyers might choose to focus on one area of law or practice in several, barristers spend the majority of their time in court and are often tasked with representing clients in more difficult matters.   

What's the difference between a lawyer and a solicitor?  

There is a difference between lawyers and solicitors in the United Kingdom, for example. Anyone who has received formal legal education and is licensed to practice law can be considered a lawyer. A solicitor, on the other hand, is a specific kind of attorney who gives legal counsel, drafts legal pleadings, and appears in court on behalf of clients.

Solicitors help their clients with concerns that fall outside of criminal law, such as estate planning, buying and selling property, and drafting contracts for businesses. Moreover, they are able to represent their clients in court and provide them with legal counsel and direction.

As opposed to general practitioners, barristers focus solely on client advocacy. Solicitors in the United Kingdom usually have their clients hire barristers to represent them in court. Barristers are highly experienced advocates who are taught to deliver cases eloquently in court, and they typically have competence in specific areas of law.

For the most part, solicitors work with clients on civil matters and can represent them in court, whereas barristers focus on criminal matters and are often instructed by solicitors to represent their clients in court.

MyLawQuestions is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

Discussion Comments

By anon1002717 — On Jan 31, 2020

Answering as anon:

To anon300250:

I believe you are right. I stand corrected. That will teach me to add a tangential point without fact checking. I wasn't able to get the specifics on what I have to use for research here but the first PhD appears to have been in what is now Germany in 1810 or so. Thank you for your insight.

To anon183744:

Not sure where you found your "overruling" definition as, in asking me to cite my authority, you failed to do the same. Stumbled over this thread and don't even remember posting to it but I can certainly point you in the right direction with a couple of examples.

From the simple Merriam-Webster's on-line:

- "definition of lawyer: one whose profession is to conduct lawsuits for clients or to advise as to legal rights and obligations in other matters"; and

"definition of attorney: one who is legally appointed to transact business on another's behalf"

From Webster's Third New International - the one that the U.S. Supreme Court has cited most frequently since it came out:

- lawyer: "a specialist in or a practitioner of law; one . . . whose profession is to conduct lawsuits for clients or to advise . . .

- attorney: "one who is legally appointed by another to transact business for him; specif: a legal agent qualified to act for suitors and defendant in legal proceedings".

From The Law Dictionary (on-line) "Featuring Black's Law Dictionary Free Online Legal Dictionary 2nd Ed."

- attorney: "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. "

And then we come to what I believe must be your definition.

From The Law Dictionary (on-line) "Featuring Black's Law Dictionary Free Online Legal Dictionary 2nd Ed."

- lawyer: "a person learned in the law" but you didn't go far enough. The whole definition is

"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" . Is a lawyer a person learned in the law? I would hope so. But that is not the only qualification. The fee aspect indicates a professional interest, as does the reference to the perspective lawyer's business.

They are many others, like Issacharoff, Legal Responses to Conflicts of Interest that Cites Black's (don't have the cite but you can find it on google scholar)

But the real authority is reason:

"Lawyer" is a designation of profession and "attorney" is a designation of status as the representative of another. To (legally) practice law, you must be licensed, thus, to be a lawyer you must be licensed. To represent another you must only be authorized by that person. If you are not authorized, you are not their attorney. If they authorized you, and you are licensed to practice law, you may represent them via your status as an attorney at law. If you are not licensed, you will need a power of attorney making you their attorney in fact.

By bushwah — On Mar 19, 2014

Please note that the term "attorney" to designate a lawyer is incorrect in most places outside the USA, e.g. in English Canada (where members of the bar are generally prohibited from using that term); it does survive, as an archaic English term, in Quebec. An Ontario lawyer, as has been noted here, is styled a barrister and solicitor.

The one remaining use in English Canada is "Crown attorney", now more commonly "Crown counsel", since that person acts on behalf of the Crown. Otherwise, "attorney" refers to a person who holds a power of attorney to act on another's behalf.

Using the term "attorney" to refer to a lawyer in English Canada is evidence of / perpetuation of cultural imperialism -- just one example of the many US-specific terms that now pervade Canadian English via the mass media from south of our border.

By anon347816 — On Sep 10, 2013

Technically, in the U.S., you must be a member of the bar in the state in which you practice. This allows you to practice before the State courts only, but the local federal courts will admit you once you are approved by the state.

A graduate must apply to the Bar of whatever states he/she wishes to practice in. Each state has somewhat different rules and some, but not all, have reciprocity agreements.

Most, however, will require that the candidate have a degree from an American Bar Association-accredited law school, pass a lengthy post-graduate exam ("the bar"), and complete a lengthy application. Going to the accredited school gives you a "J.D."

The bar investigates the candidate's background for arrests, criminal complaints, and other issues of moral turpitude.

Attorneys generally must pass a nationally administered ethics exam in their second year. If a candidate is not attending an ABA-rated school, he or she must usually also pass the "baby bar" after the first year. Once approved, the candidate pays the fee and gets sworn in.

Federal trial courts admit anyone licensed in the state in which the court is located. Last time I looked, the Supreme Court of the United States required references and some other items. Most other federal courts will admit anyone admitted in any state.

In a few places, you can study with a lawyer for a number of years instead of attending a school.

By anon300251 — On Oct 29, 2012

Doctorate = Doctor. Enough said. Stop creating semantic differences that don't exist and have never existed. Indeed, some law degrees read: Juris Doctor, while others read Doctor of Jurisprudence, Doctor of Law, Juris Doctorate. Doctor is simply Latin for "teacher."

This entire thread is meaningless because doctor means doctor! I know that may be hard on some peoples' ego but it is the truth. Deal with it!

By anon300250 — On Oct 29, 2012

You are so wrong. The MD degree was the second doctorate ever granted. The first doctorate ever granted was the law degree nearly 1,000 years ago at the University of Bologna, Italy. It took about 800 years for the MD degree to be created -- nearly a century after the MD the PhD was created.

The PhD is relatively new - only about 150 years old. It is not the first doctorate, not the second doctorate...not even close.

By anon299400 — On Oct 24, 2012

Schware Vs. Board of Examiners "The practice of Law CANNOT be licensed by any state", US Constitution Art.1 Sec.9 No titles of Nobility(Esquire),Trinsey Vs. Pagliaro D.C. Pa. 1964, 229 F. Supp. 647 "An attorney for the plaintiff CANNOT admit evidence into the court. He is either an Attorney or a witness, and, Statements of counsel in brief or in argument are NOT facts before the court.

By anon293354 — On Sep 25, 2012

In the United States, Esq. is an honorary title and may be used by anyone at any time. However, its association with the legal profession may lead one to believe that the user of this title is a practicing attorney.

In the U.S., it is illegal to hold oneself out as an attorney/lawyer without being admitted to a state bar. The use of the title Esq. may mislead those who it is impressed upon and create a false belief that they are discussing matters with a licensed attorney, thereby creating liability for the person using Esq. Err on the side of caution and avoid using terms like lawyer, attorney, or even associate (use law clerk if you are working at a firm with a JD and are not admitted yet) until you have passed the bar and completed the relevant registration procedures for your jurisdiction.

By dmosse — On Jul 27, 2011

Yes. Graduating law school does not automatically make you an attorney. You must be admitted to the bar in order to be a licensed attorney.

David E., criminal lawyer, Miami, Fla.

By anon183747 — On Jun 06, 2011

ESQ denotes that the person is licensed by a state to practice law on behalf of others.

An attorney can choose to use the suffix J.D., or ESQ after his or her name. A lawyer cannot use ESQ unless s/he is licensed, but can use the suffix J.D..

By anon183744 — On Jun 06, 2011

@Dexxxlaw: State your authority, please. Your opinion is overruled by the definition of a lawyer "one who is learned in the law."

JD= Lawyer. May have not received licensed yet or no longer holds a license (e.g., many presidents, including President Obama and President Clinton, and law professors are no longer licensed and are therefore lawyers, and cannot lawfully give legal advice).

ESQ= Attorney. One who is currently licensed to practice law.

Licensed lawyers can determine for themselves how they would like to be referred to, by attorney or lawyer, but either is appropriate.

Every attorney is a lawyer, but every lawyer is not an attorney.

By chas46 — On May 27, 2011

OK, OK. We all have to at least be agreed that you don't have to be a "Wise Geek" to post here. That spelling and typos don't disqualify you from having a good brain in your head, or a good heart to guide it.

By chas46 — On May 27, 2011

It is automatic too, fergal. However, you can't work in a court of law and take a fee without first passing the bar. From a PhD and wannaBe Attorney.

Attorneys can spot the truth faster than anything or anyone I've ever seen. Doctors often have to guess at the truth and that comes from worldwide experience over many, many years.

By anon180541 — On May 26, 2011

Many *many*, i emphasize, supreme court justices have had no degree at all in the law, but this does not seem to reduce in any way their ability to wisely ascertain the constitutionality of a law, which is their foremost responsibility to the republic and we the people.

In fact, the opposite seems to be true: the more degrees a person attains the better they are at seeing subtle differences in very narrow aspects of law. This is akin to discerning the difference in a typewriters font characteristics under a microscope vs reading the document as a whole and understanding the wider "spirit of the law" in which it was expressly intended.

Besides, who would put their trust in a lawyer when the license they practice under grants them immunity from recourse if they fail your case? Lawyers should practice under strict liability and should be held accountable for their failures, as it stands currently a lawyer has little incentive to win a case when neither his property nor his profession is at risk.

That is why I encourage everyone to learn the law for their own purposes and practice it pro-se if and when the time arises he should need it.

By chas46 — On Mar 28, 2011

@Anon147117: Very well spoken. Thank you. Saved me time and space. I have a PhD. The hard part came when I was growing into it.

By anon150422 — On Feb 07, 2011

JD, MD, PhD, D.Sc., who cares? None is greater than the other (except perhaps in England).

The truth of the matter is that each requires about 90 semester credits post-bachelors (the PhD and D.Sc. requires 60 classroom credits plus 20-30 credits for a dissertation or a series of publications).

If you desire a doctor of law (JD) degree there really is no point in pursuing a another degree. Same with doctor of medicine degree. Same for PhD. If you have a PhD in U.S. constitutional history, for example, what's the point in getting a JD? You get the degree only if you want or need to. That's the point.

The notion that one degree is higher than another is artificial, made-up, and silly. The first doctorate of any kind was for lawyers about 1000 years ago. The PhD is only about 150 years old. Stop the argument. If a JD wanted or needed a PhD he or she would get one. If a PhD wanted or needed a JD he or she would get one. Enough!

By anon150278 — On Feb 07, 2011

What a strange argument. Who really cares so long as you are doing what you love? Anyway, for those who do care one can go by the order of postnominals, in which case a D.Sc is ranked > than PhD is > than professional degrees (e.g. MD/JD) followed by the undergraduate degrees.

If that makes you freaky or insecure, then you have a problem.

By anon147117 — On Jan 28, 2011

Wow. This is hilarious. I can't believe I'm seeing people with doctoral degrees arguing about whose is better, like a bunch of 12 year olds.

Personally, I have a JD. It was tough to get, yes, but not unmanageable. There was a writing requirement, but not equivalent to a dissertation. I wouldn't presume to say which degree was harder or better. I never sought a PhD. The one which is better is the one which suits you and your purposes.

If you're really angry about what you had to do to get the degree you got, ask yourself: Did I really pursue my bliss? Did I choose to do what I'm best at and contribute something to the world? If not, stop what you're doing and do something else. (That's what I did; I didn't become an attorney. I pursued research and writing, which I love, so they feel like less work to me because I enjoy what I do, not because they're intrinsically harder.) Adolescents are all about me, me, me. I worked harder; you should value what I did. Adults are all about making use of their true talents, being true to themselves, in a way which benefits others.

By anon142276 — On Jan 12, 2011

Ignorance abounds on this site. An attorney is anyone acting for another; e.g.; attorney at law or attorney in fact.

By anon140379 — On Jan 07, 2011

Neither a PhD nor a JD is easy. That is why they are both doctorates; the former a research doctorate, the latter a professional doctorate. Enough said. This discussion thread should end on this note.

By anon140207 — On Jan 06, 2011

And yes, my research on human birth defects has had an affect on society (this is directed at you, 108183). If you think a PhD is easy, then go get one.

By anon137525 — On Dec 28, 2010

I know a PhD who received two masters degrees and his PhD all within three years. And despite what the 11-year PhD person speaks of, he still cannot explain how he only has approximately 70-90 semester credits beyond his bachelors degree (including a Masters and PhD), just like a JD. Nice try.

For every anecdotal observation, there is a counter-anecdotal observation, but still the same result: 70-90 post-bachelor semester credit whether PhD, JD, MD, DDS, etc. Again, nice try!

I have a professional doctorate and you, my PhD friend, have a research doctorate. That's all.

By anon135417 — On Dec 18, 2010

Wow, happy to be Australian and not up myself. Get a grip guys. I have heaps of degrees (PhD and doing a JD). I don't care what title I use as long as I'm doing a good job, enjoying what I am doing and learning!

By anon134890 — On Dec 16, 2010

Let me see. I took a Master's to get into my Ph.D. program, so that was two years of work, plus an oral exam, which had to be passed prior to the written exam and final thesis of 100-plus pages. Two more years of coursework and I was ready to take off a year (during which time I worked full-time) to research and study for written exams at the doctoral level.

I didn't pass one of the one hour portions of the exam (as opposed to not passing one of the day-long exams) and was required to wait six months and re-take the written exam. Passed this time. Somewhere in there, you have your oral exam, in which you prepare your initial committee for your dissertation material, and they approve it or revise it, which might add another year to the workload (during which time you teach, by the way).

So at this point, I was teaching a full load, and running a computer lab as part of the requirements of my grant. Writing the dissertation, of course, according to those who have posted here and know how easy this is--said tongue in cheek, for those who have never looked up the word 'sarcasm'--only took 2-1/2 years, during which time I taught and worked as a consultant for various businesses. Then you have to arrange to actually pass your dissertation through your committee. This might take six 6 months to a year, depending on how many revisions they require.

Yeah, the whole thing was easy-peasy, and if you include one previous MA I took, only took 11 years. Everyone should do this! Sigh.

By anon129750 — On Nov 25, 2010

JD= Lawyer. May have not received licensed yet or no longer holds a license.(e.g., many presidents including Pres. Obama, and Pres. Clinton, are no longer licensed and are therefore lawyers).

ESQ= Attorney (Is currently licensed to practice).

Licensed lawyers can say how they would like to be referenced, by attorney or lawyer.

Every attorney is a lawyer, but every lawyer is not an attorney.

By Irena Kralj — On Oct 04, 2010

Solicitors can represent you in court, but only in lower courts. If the case goes higher, then you need a Barrister (called an Advocate in Scotland) to fight for you in higher courts.

By anon113510 — On Sep 24, 2010

Why is everyone beating up on PhD’s? I happen to have a PhD, in biophysics and genetics, and now I'm in law, so I can tell you that getting my PhD was much more difficult. Anyone can memorize and regurgitate, but it takes a hell of a lot brains to come up with new ideas, test them, and publish them for the world to read.

And yes, my research on human birth defects has had an affect on society (this is directed at you, 108183). If you think a PhD is easy, then go get one.

By anon112871 — On Sep 22, 2010

A JD is a first professional degree like an MD, or DO (in the US), etc. The confusion with using the term is its a US only term and some schools were using both JD and LLB for years. Add to this, the LLD, JSD, or SJD (doctoral) degree in law.

I think the JD was implemented to indicate it was a first professional degree and not an undergraduate degree. But it also is not a research degree like a Phd. Ph.D's can be extremely tough to accomplish in the sciences and engineering where original research has to be enacted repeatedly, data collected and reviewed to prove ones thesis. That is in addition to the research of the established scientific literature world wide similar to other Ph.D. programs.

It's not uncommon for a Phd in the sciences to drag on and for a considerable amount of tweaking to be done to accomplish one's goals.

Does that mean one is less legitimate than the other? No, they are just different. However the fact that there is a research degree designation in law at the doctoral level adds to the confusion. Now we have a JSD, or SJD in addition to a LLD. Plus the JD is an entry level degree required to do an LLM, and JSD, SJD, or LLD. One doesn't have that in other professions.

This only adds confusion but I think it's appropriate to separate it from the perception of being an undergraduate degree.

Having said that, that to me is not that important. Rather in the US it's pretty scandalous and egregious in my opinion that law students are unleashed on the general public after law school and taking the bar exam yet have zero experience in the law and can set up their own shop right out the door if they like. What? Canadian law school students who also require an under grad degree to get into law school, have to intern for a year under a principal lawyer after graduation to get experience and have all their decisions reviewed and mentored.

After that they then can take the bar course and write the bar exam. That prevents the general public from being exposed to attorneys with "book experience" but no actual practicing experience, and helps prevent many critical errors and this protects the public. I think that is an even more important flaw than any talk of the degree per se.

By anon108323 — On Sep 02, 2010

I agree a JD, as with all professional doctorates, is a doctorate regardless of dissertation or not. A dissertation is not nearly as rigorous as suggested by one of the bloggers. Anyone who thinks it foolish for someone with a JD or MD, and not a PhD, to consider themselves a "doctor" is the one being foolish.

JD means Juris Doctor, or Doctor of Law. Think of how extremely complex our legal system is. Of course, to be a practitioner it requires someone with doctoral level training. Law school is extremely rigorous and I believe that an extra 8-10 classed beyond what a typical PhD takes would be at least the equivalent of a PhD's dissertation, if not more so.

By the way, a PhD is a relatively recent phenomenon in the long history of doctorates. The first doctorates of any kind were granted to lawyers at the University of Bologna, approximately 600 or so years before the advent of the PhD.

By anon108183 — On Sep 01, 2010

Original work, a dissertation. What a joke. These are students writing them, not professionals or experienced individuals.

This pretense is delusional, as is the notion that law review articles are that important. With both the dissertations and law reviews (and other legal journals) these are mere students doing their first ever research.

Ask yourself, how much in the world has changed due to a dissertation or a law review article? If you say much, then be specific. The truth is that most dissertations are not as labor intensive as suggested - a gross overgeneralization and, accordingly, overstatement.

I would rather write a paper based on research (dissertation) than take eight or 10 more 800/900 level classes!

By anon107998 — On Sep 01, 2010

To those JDs who insist on calling themselves Dr., so be it. You have earned a Juris Doctor and are entitled to do so. Nevertheless, people have every right to think it foolish if you do.

But the person who thinks a PhD is "far easier to get" than a JD is delusional (unless maybe you go to an online diploma farm). PhDs require fewer classes because the bulk of your training is doing original research, often 5-7 years of research, and usually 60-80 hours per week, just to finish a "paper" which in fact is usually 200 pages of material never before known to the world, otherwise it is not original research.

By anon96301 — On Jul 15, 2010

I was just researching the title Esquire and found this site. Wow. I may be wrong but it sounds like some people here are in love with themselves and all these titles. Maybe I will start using the title of Captain since I own a boat and fly an airplane - no, that would be cheesy. Probably best if I just use the title Esquire (Esq.) since it is a meaningless term and anyone could use it.

By anon94174 — On Jul 07, 2010

Indeed, most JD programs are harder to get into than most PhD programs. Both are doctorates, the former being a professional doctorate, the latter being a research doctorate. Both degrees require approximately 90 semester credits beyond a bachelors degree. What's the issue? They're both doctorates.

By anon93982 — On Jul 06, 2010

By the way, I don't need to go by doctor, but legally I may if I desire. For the person who posts the incorrect anonymous blogs which suggests that Juris Doctor is not a doctorate (wow!) because it (like a physician) is a professional doctorate, that person must refer to me as Dr. It's the law!

By anon93980 — On Jul 06, 2010

An MD is a professional doctorate but who do you call when you get sick - not a PhD. A JD is a professional doctorate but who do you call when you need legal assistance - not a PhD. Who cares that these degrees are professional doctorates as opposed to research doctorates? They are both doctorates! MDs takes 2 years of classroom work and two years on the job training. JDs take three years of classroom work with no on the job training.

By anon93977 — On Jul 06, 2010

A JD is *not* easy to get. A PhD is far easier - far fewer classes and a paper (dissertation). Also, no professional exams for most PhDs, unlike a bar exam. Most JD programs are harder to get into then most PhD programs.

The ABA issued a Council Statement that a JD is the academic equivalent to a PhD, both requiring approximately 84 to 90 semester credits after a bachelors degree, with a PhD using about 24 to 30 of those credits on a dissertation and taking fewer classes than a JD.

By anon93171 — On Jul 02, 2010

A JD is a professional doctorate. It cannot be compared with a PhD. You may have more 'course credits', but that's because a PhD focuses (or at least should focus) on research.

The ABA can say you can call yourself what you want. However, you'll be looked at rather strangely to call yourself Dr with a JD. They aren't hard to get.

By DoctorJD — On Jun 14, 2010

Also, the American Bar Association (ABA) has made it further clear that a JD holder can refer to themselves as "doctor" if they wish. Call me doctor, Mr. PhD.

By DoctorJD — On Jun 14, 2010

The American Bar Association issued a Council Statement that a JD is the academic equivalent to a PhD. Apparently some of the commentators herein have failed to read same and are telling you that a PhD candidate studies at a higher level. Nothing could be further from the truth.

In fact, JD graduates actually have about 30 more class credits than a typical PhD (where the PhD uses about 24 of the 30 credits for a dissertation). Also, all JD classes are 800-900 level or equivalent. All. Not some -- all!

The LL.B. from England did not require a prior bachelors degree and that has caused confusion by some or, with a few, an easy way to confuse the issue. Call me Doctor, thank you!

I earned my professional doctorate with more credits at the same level than Mr. PhD!

By anon61694 — On Jan 21, 2010

Here in Canada, a person must: 1) have a law degree that is recognized by the law society of his/her particular province, 2) pass a bar exam, and 3) work as an articling student (i.e. apprentice) or a judge's clerk for 10 to 12 months, before he/she can be licensed by the law society of his/her particular province as a barrister and solicitor of the superior-level court of his/her particular province.

For example, a person (with a recognized law degree) who articles at a law firm in a city within the Province of Ontario and who passes the bar exams administered by the Law Society of Upper Canada (LSUC) in large Ontario cities such as Toronto and Ottawa, is admitted as a barrister and solicitor of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice and his/her name is listed in the Roll of Solicitors (a very large book) that is kept by LSUC.

Although a Canadian lawyer can work as both a solicitor (i.e. a boardroom/office lawyer who spends his/her time negotiating business deals) and a barrister (i.e. a courtroom lawyer who spends his/her time fighting lawsuits), most lawyers in Canada devote themselves to one or the other only.

In terms of legal terminology, many court documents in Canada would say something like "John Smith, Solicitor for the Plaintiff" even though the lawyer John Smith practices mostly as a barrister.

A Canadian lawyer in his/her demand letter would begin with something like "I am the solicitor for [name of client]" even though such lawyer is really a barrister who will go to court to sue if his/her client's demand is not met.

Regardless, the words "solicitor" and "barrister" are still better words for "lawyer" than "attorney". In Canada, the word "attorney" is generally used to mean an attorney in fact, being someone who is empowered by a Power of Attorney document to sign documents on behalf of someone else.

There is also the word "counsel" (not "counselor") that Canadian judges like to use to refer to a lawyer who is representing someone in court.

Attorney simply means "agent" and a lawyer is so much more than just a stand-in person for his/her client. Of course, the French have the best word, being "advocat" (avocate), to mean a lawyer because a lawyer is essentially someone who advocates the legal rights of his/her client.

The most ridiculous thing about American law schools is that they give out a Doctor of Jurisprudence (JD) to a law graduate who will never be called "doctor" and whose education is not on the same academic level as a PhD graduate who wrote a thesis or dissertation.

Law schools in England, Canada and other British Commonwealth countries give out Bachelor or Baccalaureate level degrees (LLB, BCL, etc.) to their law graduates. A Masters of Laws (LLM) and a Doctor of Laws (LLD) can be pursued for those law graduates who are interested in becoming a legal scholar/professor instead of a lawyer or judge.

Because of the dominance of American television programs in Canada, too many of my clients call me "attorney" even though all the lawyer ads in Canadian Yellow Pages use the word "barrister and solicitor" instead of "attorney". At least no Canadian lawyer I met have the audacity to use that antiquated word "esquire".

If a very senior and accomplished Canadian lawyer wants to distinguish him/herself from most other lawyers, he/she can ask the Crown (government) to make his/her "Queen's Counsel" so that he/she can add the initials "Q.C." after his/her name, even though he/she will continue working as a private sector lawyer serving private sector clients. When a Canadian lawyer gets the "Q.C." designation, he/she can now wear courtroom robes that are fancier than the robes worn by the more run of the mill lawyers.

My tailor-made courtroom robes (barrister's gowns) are in my closet right now, and when I wear them in court I feel like a highly learned professional instead of just another businessman running a private business.

The most important part of the barrister's gown is the white neck tabs/ties that resemble the neck tabs/ties worn by priests, since they emphasize that lawyers are akin to a "secular clergy" with moral duties to the court, clients and society at large.

Canadian lawyers may make less money (even before our high income taxes) than American lawyers, but we dress better in court and we have (some but never enough) practical experience before we get our license to practice.

If I became unemployed tomorrow, I am still a Bachelor of Laws but I would not consider myself a lawyer, solicitor, barrister, or legal counsel since I am not actively practicing as such.

If an American lawyer (attorney at law) is sitting idle at his/her law office with no clients, he/she is still a lawyer (an expert of law who applies his/her expertise) but not an attorney since the word "attorney" suggests an agency relationship and an agent/attorney is not an agent/attorney without a principal/client.

By anon45046 — On Sep 13, 2009

In some states, a law student who has completed a certain number of hours can be sworn in by a judge, given a limited license to practice and do the work of an attorney *before* actually receiving the J.D. Sometimes, right after graduation and during bar exam preparation, that person can continue to use their limited license to practice and use the J.D. behind their names to indicate that they have graduated from law school.

By Dexxxlaw — On Aug 19, 2009

It is very simple: lawyer is a profession; attorney is a designation of the status of representing someone else’s rights. Designating an attorney “at law" had nothing to do with the combining of the courts. Courts of law were combined with courts of equity well before the distinction between lawyer and attorney got blurred by modern society. It is to differentiate between an “attorney in fact” and those who, by their status as being admitted to the bar, did not need a written Power of Attorney for each client - an attorney at law. This is explained in detail in post #10.

That is the correct *and* old fashioned meaning of those terms. In common parlance, attorney and lawyer are confused and used interchangeably. Some of this sloppiness has sifted down into actual law. For example, “attorney” means one who is authorized under applicable law to practice law in the U.S. Bankruptcy Code. But notice it does not say “licensed” because the USBC has merged “in fact” and “at law”. An attorney in fact does practice law, albeit for only the maker of the Power of Attorney and only for the matters included in the Power.

As to your “attorney at law” was created by the merging of the courts of law and equity statement, that is interesting and I would like to hear more but I am having difficulty with the timing. The term “attorney at law” was originally a public officer belong the Courts of Common Law at Westminster. Those who held this title eventually became solicitors.

As to your statement that a lawyer is one who is learned in the law, it is true, that is one of the definitions. However, the term still carries the connotation of a profession. Nobody says “learned in the law” anymore because licensure has taken the place of being learned so to speak. If you are licensed you are expected to be competent to handle almost any type of case in that jurisdiction. And, I realize that you said “know the law” and not “learned” but that the word Black’s uses and I am prejudiced against “know” because I have known a lot of jerks who have said “You can’t do XYZ. I know the law” (criminal defendants usually change it to “I know my rights”, which is just a derivative) and they are almost always wrong.

By anon42064 — On Aug 19, 2009

Someone with a JD after their name just has their juris doctor, a basic law degree. there is no system of letters after names in common use to designate bar membership.

By anon38351 — On Jul 25, 2009

Is someone with a JD after their name someone who has passed the bar?

By anon34910 — On Jun 30, 2009

Non-sense. An attorney is a one who is licensed to practice law. Keywords are of course licensed and practice. A Lawyer is one who *knows* the Law. He no longer has a place to work for there are no more Courts *of* Law only courts *at* law hence attorney at law. Clientele consists solely of "persons". No longer are there Citizens where-by a Lawyer could be called.

By Dexxxlaw — On Jan 27, 2009

No, an individual can be someones attorney-in-fact without any legal training, but he is not a lawyer without passing the bar. This is explained in detail the last post.

By anon25124 — On Jan 24, 2009

Does a Lawyer need to pass the Bar in order be called an Attorney?

By Dexxxlaw — On Oct 01, 2008


-The main article is interesting but there are a couple of points that are a little off, depends on how technical you want to be. “Attorney” has Anglo-French origins, which differs from “old French”, and was the Gallicized dialect that the Normans who invaded England spoke. “Lawyer” comes from “Law” which originates in old English (before 1000 a.d.) but was borrowed from the Scandinavian “lag” meaning a measure, a stroke, something laid down or fixed. Misuse of the terms attorney and lawyer has lead to the misconception that they are interchangeable. Although they often refer to the same person, they are not perfectly synonymous. It is just intellectual sloppiness, but mass intellectual sloppiness..

The term “lawyer” is a designation of profession, while “attorney” refers to status. A lawyer holds himself out to the public as being: 1) able to practice law in the given jurisdiction; and 2) available for hire. This is why when you get a traffic ticket you negotiate with a State’s Attorney or District Attorney instead of the State’s Lawyer; you can’t hire them. Being an attorney simply means you represent the rights of another. There are two ways of doing this, as an attorney at law or as an attorney in fact. You can make anyone your attorney (in fact) by simply giving him or her the authority to act in your stead with a Power of Attorney. Being an attorney at law just means that the requirement of having a written POA that is no longer necessary because of special status granted by the government.

Again, this is hyper-technical (I estimate that 95% of lawyers or attorneys don’t know or understand the distinction) but, using Anon17981(congratulations on finishing up) as an example, the “timeline” is this:

1) Anon goes to law school and graduates – he has a J.D. (Juris Doctor) but is not yet a lawyer or attorney;

2) after law school, Anon is admitted to practice (i.e. passed the bar) on Tuesday – he has a J.D. and is licensed but is still not a lawyer or attorney;

3) On Wednesday Anon goes out and advertises himself as being available for clients (i.e. hang a shingle) – he is now a lawyer but not yet an attorney;

4) Finally, on Thursday, Anon has a client come in and he agrees to represent him or her – now Anon is a lawyer and an attorney.

Some argue that at point #2 that Anon would become an Attorney at Law status starts by virtue of the government grant of authority to practice; however, I find that this nullifies the “attorney” portion of the phrase. Having the authority to do something and actually doing it are different things By analogy, if I asked to borrow your car, there is a difference between you giving me the authority to drive the car and actually driving it. But even if this critics are correct, the basic premise – that lawyer and attorney are not the same thing – is still proved because, at point #2, he is not a lawyer yet.

Using myself as an example, it can also go in reverse. I was a lawyer and an attorney. Now I am a professor though still licensed to practice. But since I no longer represent the rights of another and no longer accept clients, I am no longer an attorney or a lawyer.

Despite what the main article stated, in America, Esquire is an honorific title not a professional title. It should never be used to refer to yourself (see Bryan Garner, The Elements of Legal Style). The term is used to show respect to others; to use it for yourself is considered arrogant. A profession title would be Attorney at Law, Counselor at Law, Q.C. (in England, Queen’s Counsel), etc.

By Dexxxlaw — On Oct 01, 2008


– Theoretically Caroline Kennedy could be an attorney (in fact) but I would have a hard time believing that someone who had so many legally trained people in her family would call her self that without passing a bar. Didn’t see the article. Did it give you the impression that she never passed ANY bar or just NY’s NY’s is know to be very tough; some who can’t pass it will go to nearby states like Penn and sit for their bar. Once they get into any state they can practice federal law in any state like bankruptcy and tax.

Tjl771 – Question #1

There is a semantic problem with your most recent question. The phrase “pass the bar” in the old days was actually referencing the physical layout of the courtroom. In most courtrooms back then (and in most today) you had a physical separation between the gallery (where citizens uninvolved in the case) and the area where the judge, lawyers, and parties to the case sit/work (in England and someplaces in America called “the well”). This separation is a railing call the bar. Passing the bar literally meant to be able, by virtue of your status, go through the gate in the railing from the gallery to the well (without being held in contempt of court or arrested. So if they have been admitted to practice (also called “licensed”), you have “passed the bar”.

When you use the phrase, it seems like you are asking about passing a bar exam. Bar exams are a more recent phenomenon than passing the bar. But now most people think they are synonymous; this is incorrect. For example, in Wisconsin, if you graduated from one of the two law schools in the state you can be automatically admitting to the bar without having to take a test. Most states have two requirements for passing the bar (or being admitted to the bar or being licensed to practice law in the state): the written exam and the character and fitness review. The overwhelming majority of people who are allowed to sit for the exam pass the review too. However, back in ’98 or so, the Illinois Supreme Court denied admission to a young man who had sat for and passed the exam. He later was convicted sentenced to 40 years for soliciting an undercover FBI informant to kill a federal judge, so it was probably a good call.

So the short answer (after a long-winded warm-up) to your last question is “No”. However (there is almost always a “however”), in some instances, someone who is has passed the bar in one state, Illinois for example, can practice law in another state pro hac vice (“for this occasion only”) with that court’s permission for a single case. The person has to get permission for each case he or she does in the 2nd state. You see this a lot in big personal injury cases that require specialization like asbestos cases.

Tjl771 – Question #2

As to the person you mention using J.D. after his or her name. It is perfectly fine, although a bit unconventional. I use J.D. after my name because I am now professor and no longer practice (but am still licensed too). It is analogous to a medical doctor; you can call him “Dr. Smith” or “John Smith, M.D.”, (but don’t do both). The “Doctor” in M.D. refers to his educational level not his profession, but these usually overlap. It is perfectly legal (yes, there was an actual court case on this) for a law school graduate to be called “Doctor”. But for your example, it is probably just personal preference. Most people who are licensed to practice graduated law school so they could use the J.D. after their name. The exception would be in a state that allows “reading for the law”; where a person who has worked for a law firm is allowed to sit for the bar exam without having gone to law school, kind of an apprentice program. My great-grandfather did it. Only a couple of states still allow it, like Maine.

“J.D.” stands for Juris Doctor not doctorate. It is confusing because the kind of degree that is conferred when the person in question graduates law school is a doctorate. Some schools even had “doctorate” on the diploma they give out. Mine did until someone did some research in 1994 and they made the change. It does make sense; if you graduate medical school you receive a doctorate but M.D. stands for medical doctor. Remember the term “doctor” was first applied to Ph.D. before medical doctors but that is what people think of when they hear “doctor”.

By tjl771 — On Sep 12, 2008

I guess what I am really wondering here is can someone be admitted to practice law in certain states without having to pass the bar? That would explain why they would use the JD instead, right? Also, would these people be able to provide legal counsel?

By tjl771 — On Sep 12, 2008

Thanks anon17981. I did know what the JD stood for, however I did not know how it differed. I am still trying to understand why someone would use the JD after their name instead of either Esquire or Attorney at Law. I ask because I know of someone who uses JD after their name but is admitted to practice law in MA & RI and I don't quite understand why.

By anon17981 — On Sep 11, 2008

To answer your question, J.D. is an abbreviation for the degree conferred upon a graduating law student. It means Juris Doctorate, and most law schools give this type of degree to their students. Although technically when one has not passed the bar, they are not a lawyer, many people do in fact call themselves a lawyer. This is due to the fact that one can do many other things in the field of law besides advocating in court. i.e. finance at a bank, in house advisors etc. I am about to finish law school myself with the degree of J.D.

By tjl771 — On Sep 08, 2008

I have a question regarding the difference between Esq. & J.D. If someone who is a JD is not an attorney by the previous information listed, than how can someone be admitted to practice law in certain states? I ask because I know someone who uses JD after their name but is admitted to practice law in MA & RI and I am trying to understand the differences.

By Fergal — On Jun 12, 2008

Thanks pocurana for the info. Had been reading about Caroline Kennedy, who refers to herself as an Attorney, and read a New York Times article which inferred she had never been admitted to the bar. Just wondered if JD = Attorney. Fergal

By pocurana — On Jun 12, 2008

Fergal - A law school graduate and an attorney are two different things in the United States. To be an attorney you have to be licensed (i.e., pass the bar) *and* (typically) have gone to law school. Before you pass the bar but after you have graduated law school you just have a JD after your name, but you can't call yourself an lawyer.

By Fergal — On Jun 11, 2008

Is a law school graduate automatically a lawyer & attorney in the US? Or is admission to a state bar necessary?

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