You’ve probably heard the term “attorney at law.” But what does it mean? Is there any other kind of attorney? And is an attorney at law different from a lawyer? These questions are actually extremely common, but even some legal professionals don’t really know the answers. Here’s a rundown of some important titles associated with people who work in the legal field:
- Attorney at Law
An attorney at law — generally called an attorney for everyday purposes — is someone who is qualified to represent someone else in a court of law. In practice, that means that an attorney must have passed the bar exam. This term is used irrespective of the type of law being practiced; someone working in personal injury law, workers compensation law, family law or criminal law could be called an attorney.
Although the terms “attorney” and “lawyer” are often used interchangeably in the American legal system (even among legal professionals), there is actually a slight difference in that a lawyer is simply someone with legal training. So a person who has attended law school but has not passed the bar exam can be called a lawyer.
- Solicitors and Barristers
In the United States, the term attorney is generally used to refer to any lawyer who actually practices law. But it’s worth knowing that in other countries, such as England, further distinctions are sometimes drawn between attorneys who operate in court and attorneys who don’t; that’s why you may have heard the terms solicitor and barrister.
Especially if you’re trying to find truly top law firms, it’s also good to take note of the term “esquire,” usually abbreviated after someone’s name like an academic degree (“Jane Smith, Esq.”). This term is an honorary title that originated in England, and some attorneys do use it today. However, you should know that the American Bar Association is not involved in monitoring use of this title, and many people use it without actually being qualified to do so. It’s probably wise to be cautious if you encounter this term, looking for more substantive evidence of legal expertise before moving forward.
What other legal professional titles would you like clarified? Join the discussion in the comments.