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What’s the Difference in Legal Titles?

Is there a difference between an attorney and a lawyer?

By Chris Micheli, January 1, 2023 8:51 am

Have you ever wondered what the difference is between an attorney and a lawyer? What about those who use the term counsel or esquire? In California, “attorneys” are those licensed to practice law by the State Bar of California. But attorneys, lawyers, and even counselors or counsels have been trained in the practice of law.

There are some who distinguish an attorney as having passed a state’s bar exam and therefore is licensed to practice law in court in that state, while lawyers may not have taken the bar exam or may not practice law. So, in some jurisdictions, the term lawyer is used for those who graduated from law school, but the term attorney is used once you pass the bar exam and are licensed to practice law in a jurisdiction.

The term esquire, following a person’s name in the form of Esq., only has legal status in the state of New York. In California, for example, this title does not mean that a person is qualified to practice law in the state. Some individuals place J.D. following their name, the abbreviation for the law degree, Juris Doctor, which is earned when someone graduates from an American law school. A J.D. degree is required to take a state’s bar exam, but this title does not mean someone has taken the bar exam or that they are licensed to practice law in a state.

The terms advocate or counsel do not have any legal significance in the United States either. They are terms that some individuals use to describe their legal work.

In England and other common law jurisdictions, there are barristers and solicitors. Barristers take a year-long course and another year of training in order to be licensed in courtroom litigation. They are similar to what are called trial lawyers or litigators in the United States. Solicitors, on the other hand, provide legal advice on different topics and take one additional year’s course. In England, the term lawyer covers both solicitors and barristers.

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