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Attorney Lawyer Difference – Everything You Need To Know About Two Apparently Identical Careers

April 6, 2018

attorney gives a handshake to lawyerWhen interested in joining the legal field, it’s worth noting there is a multitude of possibilities in terms of choosing the right career. There are numerous professionals working in this industry and dozens of specializations. To a lot of people, telling the attorney lawyer difference is impossible. Simply put, all attorneys are lawyers, but not all lawyers are attorneys. What’s the difference between lawyer and attorney then?

Understanding the concept of lawyers

Lawyers are graduates of a law school – with or without a job. Someone who has completed a degree in law will always be addressed to as a lawyer, even if their job doesn’t imply working with people or giving legal advice. However, in order to deal with customers or represent people in court, lawyers have to undergo more courses. For instance, they will need to find a specialization and study on it. Then, they will have to pass an exam to join the Bar. The exam is based on the actual specialization and passing it gives a lawyer the authority to handle clients.

Understanding the concept behind attorneys

Attorneys are also referred to as lawyers, as they have to graduate from a law school as well in order to practice as a professional. However, in order to work within a particular jurisdiction, an aspiring attorney must go through the Bar exam. There is one major difference between lawyers and attorneys – attorneys are legal representatives if their clients choose them. In simple words, attorneys don’t just interpret the law to obtain the desired result, but they apply their knowledge to handle the client’s personal necessities too. Basically, attorneys can do what lawyers do, yet a lawyer cannot perform all the aspects of an attorney’s work.

What does a lawyer do?

There are multiple types of lawyers. They usually specialize in particular areas of law. They provide legal advice, counsel, instruct and help people. They can have their own clients too. They will provide valuable advice under a series of circumstances.

Some of the most popular types of lawyers include:

  • Administrative
  • Personal injury
  • Construction
  • Contract
  • Property
  • Employment

Businesspeople, for example, can always rely on business lawyers for legal services. They can draft contracts, protect intellectual property, file suits and so on.

What does an attorney do?

Just like lawyers, there are more types of attorneys too. Again, they have various specializations. They can be advisors, advocates or counselors. They provide their clients with legal solutions and advice. When compared to lawyers, they have one major advantage – they can represent their clients in both civil and criminal proceedings. They can go inside courtrooms and interpret laws in their clients’ favor. They will expose their points of view to judges and aim to obtain the best results for their clients.

However, attorneys can also work out of courtrooms. For example, they can prepare cases and research for specific situations. Clients vary widely – they can be regular individuals or organizations and businesses. It depends on the attorney’s specialization and area of expertise.

What’s the difference between an attorney and a lawyer?

Apart from the actual work, there are more differences between attorney v lawyer, yet they obviously depend on the specialization. The exam for the Bar is a rigorous test. It’s not a basic exam, but it might extend over a few days. There’s a passing rate that varies from one place to another. Not being able to pass the exam will not give you the attorney status. However, you can still work in the legal industry, but mostly as an advisor or consultant. You won’t be able to represent clients legally.

Understanding terms in law are essential to be able to make the difference between attorney versus lawyer. For instance, an esquire is an informal word used by attorneys. They are often referred to it. In other countries, this term is solely used to acknowledge educated people. It’s a legal term for professionals too – mostly barristers and solicitors, but also those who have completed a doctorate.

Differences in salary

On average, a lawyer made $120,000 in the USA in 2017. The salary is expected to grow in 2018. Some of the well-paid lawyers made close to $200,000 in 2017, while the lowest paid lawyers got around $80,000. Attorneys made about 10% to 20% more on average, depending on multiple factors. It’s easy to tell why – they can represent clients in court, so their cases are more valuable from a financial point of view.

Lawyer career opportunities will go up by 9% by 2026 according to recent estimations. On another note, attorney jobs will grow by 10% during the same time frame. In fact, all legal occupations will grow by 10%. Lawyers represent the basic career option of the spectrum, hence the slight discrepancy. They only need to graduate from a law school. Most other law related careers require more than that – continuous education or an exam to pass the Bar.

Obviously, these numbers vary from one place to another. Lawyers in some states in the USA can make more money than attorneys in other states. In 2017, the best states in terms of finances were California and Connecticut.


So, is there a difference between a lawyer and an attorney? Yes, there is! There are more differences actually, yet all of them are related to the Bar exam. With all these, people use the words attorney and lawyer on a daily basis without knowing the difference. Even on TV or in newspapers, you’ll find reporters using these terms interchangeably. Even friends or family may sometimes talk about getting a lawyer or an attorney. These words are thought to relate to the same career, yet they don’t.

To a regular individual, there are no differences. To a state Bar association, the difference is huge, so the respective terms must be used appropriately. A little education is also handy for those who want to pursue a career in the legal field.