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People often use the terms “lawyer” and “attorney” interchangeably, especially in the United States. However, what is the difference between a lawyer and an attorney, practically speaking? Despite the similarities of these roles, there are distinctions. Understanding the precise definitions of these professions and their responsibilities will help you avoid confusion when you’re seeking representation or legal advice. 

The roles of professional paths of lawyers and attorneys diverge in three basic areas:

  1. Definition
  2. Education
  3. Duties

Each professional is useful in specific situations, such as advocacy or courtroom litigation.

Defining What the Difference Is Between a Lawyer and an Attorney

What is the difference between a lawyer and an attorney

The simplest way to determine the differences between lawyers and attorneys is to review the specific definitions

A lawyer refers to someone trained and educated in the law. They have graduated from law school and typically passed the bar exam.

An attorney or attorney at law is also a professional trained and educated in the law, and they must also pass the bar. However, they specifically have the training and experience to work in court. Therefore, an attorney is defined as a practitioner in a court of law.

What the difference is between a lawyer and an attorney may seem trivial if you look simply at the definitions. Fundamentally, lawyers advocate and advise outside the courtroom, while attorneys work inside it. 

Education and Licensure Differences Between Lawyers and Attorneys

Both lawyers and attorneys have similar educations. In most instances, law school graduates receive a Juris Doctor degree. However, students wishing to push themselves can get a more advanced and thorough Master of Laws degree. The JD degree is enough for any lawyer or attorney wishing to practice within the United States. A LLM degree may be a requirement for practicing international or comparative law.

Lawyers and attorneys both get a broad overview of all the areas of the law when they attend law school. From there, they acquire additional training in their area of focus.

While the Arizona bar examination is optional for students wishing to practice in the educational or advisory sectors, it is mandatory for anyone who wants to practice law in a courtroom in our state. This test is very challenging and typically requires several days to complete. Most people need to take the bar a few times before passing.

Different Duties and Responsibilities for Lawyers and Attorneys

Duties and responsibilities are different between a lawyer and an attorney

The critical difference between a lawyer and an attorney is how each uses their training.

A lawyer does not need to practice law in court to hold the title. Most lawyers work as consultants or advisors, providing legal advice to clients on a range of topics and issues. Lawyers will typically specialize in one area, such as:

  • Estate law
  • Tax law
  • Immigration law
  • Personal injury law
  • Business and corporate law

An attorney can do anything a lawyer can do and more. However, attorneys tend to dedicate themselves to court cases, focusing on either civil or criminal court. Part of their job is to keep detailed records of their interactions with clients and other legal professionals. They also have the knowledge to interpret state and federal laws and apply this to help their clients.

Primary Jobs for Lawyers

A lawyer can pursue several career paths outside the courtroom, including working as a legal officer, lawyer, or legal counsel lawyer. Legal officers operate within an organization, and their primary duties include research, offering legal advice, creating and processing legal documents, and identifying organizational risks.

Lawyers can work alone, advising individuals, government agencies, or businesses. Their job is to prepare legal documents and interpret their clients’ rulings, laws, and regulations.

Legal counsel lawyers offer a corporation or organization legal advice and guidance. They serve as in-house compliance resources.

Primary Jobs for Attorneys

Like lawyers, attorneys have several career options. However, one significant difference between a lawyer and an attorney is that attorneys generally have higher salary opportunities. Three top jobs for attorneys include:

  • Staff attorney
  • Litigation attorney
  • Patent attorney

Staff attorneys work for an organization. Their primary duty is managing the company’s legal services. This may include research and analysis, professional development training, and contracts and employment agreements.

Litigation attorneys represent clients in arbitrations, mediations, administrative law proceedings, and court cases. They spend their time preparing for cases and handling complex legal issues.

A patent attorney is one of the most exciting and lucrative opportunities available for an attorney. An attorney in this position helps inventors secure and negotiate the legal rights to their inventions. Not only will a patent attorney help clients apply for patents, but they also assist them in fighting against patent infringement.

How To Select the Appropriate Legal Counsel

Understanding the difference between a lawyer and an attorney can help you make the right choice.

Now that you understand what the difference is between a lawyer and an attorney, how do you choose between these two types of legal professionals? Both abide by a code of ethics and are allowed to practice law in civil and criminal courts. Both are qualified to speak about the law and advise clients. However, one or the other may be more able to help you in specific circumstances.

Choosing an Attorney

When reviewing your legal situation, you will need to determine if a claim will likely end with a trial or can be resolved without legal intervention. For cases that may go to court, an attorney is your best option. 

Attorneys in Arizona are members of the State Bar of Arizona and must follow rules of professional conduct in addition to a code of ethics. As of 2022, there were 25,483 members of the State Bar of Arizona. Attorneys have the authority to file a lawsuit and the power to represent you in an Arizona court of law.

Choosing a Lawyer

A lawyer is generally the better choice if you are simply looking for legal advice or want to settle personal matters, such as your estate. You can also get help from a lawyer for tax-related legal situations or immigration law. 

A lawyer can act as your consultant or advisor in these circumstances. Hiring a lawyer for individual issues is typically less expensive than hiring an attorney.

Sargon Law Group Helps You Understand What the Difference Is Between a Lawyer and an Attorney

Is there a difference between a lawyer and an attorney? There is, and while understanding the distinction is helpful, it can still be challenging to determine which professional is better suited to a specific problem. 

You don’t have to tackle knowing what is the difference between a lawyer and an attorney on your own. Thankfully, you can find top legal professionals working for the Sargon Law Group. Whenever you have a legal issue or question, our Phoenix personal injury lawyers and attorneys are happy to help. Contact our offices for a free consultation and to discuss your current issue. We look forward to assisting you.