Is There a Difference Between a Lawyer and an Attorney?

by Ambrosio Rodriguez | Oct 21, 2020 | Criminal Defense
Is There a Difference Between a Lawyer and an Attorney?

For many people, the terms lawyer and attorney carry the same meaning and are used interchangeably. While modern parlance allows for substituting one for the other, there is actually a distinction between the two.

A lawyer is someone who has graduated from an accredited law school. The individual holds a Juris Doctor (JD) degree though they are not licensed to practice law in California or any other state.

An attorney, on the other hand, in addition to receiving a legal education, has been admitted to the bar of California (other another state). Because of this distinction, you could say that all attorneys are lawyers, but not all lawyers are attorneys.

What Lawyers Can Do?

While it is definitely advantageous to be an attorney or to hire one if you are in need of legal representation, there are still plenty of things a lawyer can do. For one, many newly graduated law students begin working for law firms before they pass the bar.

Other lawyers who either fail to pass the bar in their state or choose not to take it for some reason, can still do some of the following:

  • Advise individuals on issues related to taxes
  • Draft legal documents
  • Advise individuals on matters relating to patents

While there is more a lawyer can do, there is one thing they cannot do, which appears in court. If you need legal representation in court, you will need to hire an attorney.

What Attorneys Can Do?

After a lawyer passes the bar exam of a particular state or is admitted via reciprocity or some other way, he or she is able to represent clients in court. While the full list of what attorneys can do is too long for this article, it includes:

  • Filing lawsuits
  • Defending individuals who have been accused of a drug charge or another crime
  • Navigate complex issues related to questions of immigration
  • Represent individuals before the IRS

For most people, hiring an attorney who has the full authority under the law to represent you in various levels of court, is the best option.

Licensing Requirements in California

The journey from lawyer to attorney is a difficult one as any attorney can attest. Passing a state’s bar exam can be very difficult and stressful, requiring months of preparation.

The state of California, for example, has one of the most challenging bar exams in the country.

The state is also one of the few that requires every lawyer to take the California bar exam in order to be eligible to practice law in the state, even if they have passed a bar examination in another state.

In addition to graduating from an accredited law school and passing the California bar exam, lawyers who wish to practice law in the state need to be of high moral character as defined by The State Bar of California.

Finally, the state bar also notes that every applicant needs to have complied with all court orders pertaining to family or child support.

Choosing the Lawyer (or Attorney) that is Right for You

As noted above, it is usually wise to hire an attorney as they have the authority to represent you in court and handle all other legal matters. You should, however, make sure the attorney you are hiring is experienced in the type of law related to your case and that they have the necessary skills to represent you well.

In many cases, you will find that it is beneficial to research several lawyers and then meet with one or two who seem like they might be a good fit.

Never settle for a lawyer who doesn’t make you feel comfortable or who you don’t think you can be completely honest with.

Be sure to ask them questions about how often they will communicate with you, strategies they might have for your case, and how much they are going to charge for their services.

Finally, ask any potential attorney you might hire about their success rate and what they think the likely outcomes of your case might be. While some attorneys might have an impressive record when it comes to winning cases like yours, you should beware of attorneys who guarantee success or make promises they might not be able to keep.

If you follow those steps and hire an attorney who meets your criteria, your case should run smoothly and you should have a good overall experience.