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The terms lawyer and attorney are often used interchangeably, especially in the United States. Despite the closeness in definition and the revolving use, there is a difference between lawyer and attorney.

Possessing the knowledge of the appropriate definition will create less confusion later when selecting representation or seeking legal advice. Knowing the differences between the two professions can also lead to alternate career paths.

Defining the individual roles of an attorney comes down to acknowledging three distinct areas or characteristics: definition, education, and duties. Additionally, examining the professional paths for each individual will further help differentiate the roles and identify which professional is most useful in specific situations, primarily advocacy or courtroom litigation.

Difference Between Lawyer and Attorney: The Definition

The simplest way to determine the difference between lawyer and attorney is to review the specific definitions. A lawyer refers to someone trained and educated in the law. They are people who have graduated from law school and typically passed the bar.

An attorney or attorney at law is also someone who is trained and educated in the law, but they also practice in court. Therefore an attorney is a practitioner in a court of law.

While both definitions are similar, the key difference is where or how the individual practices the law. Lawyers tend to advocate and advise outside of the courtroom, and attorneys do their work inside it. The differences seem trivial, but they make a significant difference in practice and career projections.

Difference Between Lawyer and Attorney: Education and Licensure

Both lawyers and attorneys have similar educations. In most instances, those graduating from law school receive a Juris Doctor degree. However, for those wishing to push themselves, students 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. The LLM degree is for those wishing to practice international or comparative law.

While the bar exam is optional for those students wishing to practice from an educational or advisory sector, it is mandatory for anyone who wants to practice law, especially in a courtroom. Every attorney must pass the bar exam for their state. The exam is challenging and typically requires several days to complete.

The successful completion of the bar exam is vital for state licensure. You cannot get a law license without first passing the exam. Most people need to take the bar several times before passing.

Difference Between Lawyer and Attorney: Duties and Responsibilities

The critical difference between a lawyer and an attorney comes down to the way they use their education and training. As with the other differences, there are similarities between the two occupations.

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. Their specializations can include:

An attorney can do anything a lawyer can do and more. However, attorneys tend to stick with court cases, focusing on either civil or criminal court. Additionally, whereas the bar exam is optional for lawyers, it is not for attorneys.

Primary Jobs for Lawyers

If you are looking for an easy way to tell the difference between lawyer and attorney, look no further than the types of jobs. A lawyer can pursue several career paths outside the courtroom, including as a legal officer, lawyer, or legal counsel lawyer. A legal officer operates within an organization, and their primary duties include research, offering legal advice, creating and processing legal documents, and identifying organizational risks.

A lawyer can work alone, offering advice to individuals, government agencies, or individual businesses. Their job is to prepare legal documents and interpret their clients’ rulings, laws, and regulations.

A legal counsel lawyer offers a corporation or organization legal advice and guidance. They are an in-house compliance resource.

Primary Jobs for Attorneys

Like lawyers, attorneys have several career options. However, attorneys have more significant salary opportunities. Three top jobs for attorneys include:

  • Staff attorney
  • Litigation attorney
  • Patent attorney

A staff attorney works for an organization. Their primary duty is managing all legal services needed by the company. Legal services can include research and analysis, professional development training, and managing contracts and employment agreements.

A litigation attorney represents clients in arbitrations, mediations, administrative law proceedings, and court cases. Their time is spent preparing for cases and handling complex legal issues.

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

Selecting Counsel

Now that you understand the difference between lawyer and attorney, how do you choose between the two specialists? Both are qualified to speak about the law and advise, but only one is licensed to practice in court.

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

However, a lawyer is probably best if you are only looking for advice or want to settle personal matters, such as your estate. A lawyer for individual issues is likely less expensive than an attorney.

While understanding the difference between lawyer and attorney is helpful, it can still be challenging to determine when a lawyer or attorney is better suited for a specific problem. Thankfully, you can find top legal professionals working for the MDK Law Group. Whenever you have a legal issue or have a legal question, the lawyers and attorneys working for MDK are happy to help. Contact their offices for a free consultation and discuss your current legal issue. Someone should respond quickly.