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What is the Difference between a Lawyer and an Attorney?

Cover of Black's Law Dictionary

From time to time – most recently on Quora – people ask what the difference is between a lawyer and an attorney. Here is what I was taught many years ago….

Although most people (including, it appears, most lawyers) treat the terms as synonyms, they can have different meanings:

  • “Lawyer” denotes a profession (I am a lawyer).
  • “Attorney” denotes the relationship of a lawyer to his or her client (as an attorney I represent my clients).

I recently pulled my decades-old Black’s Law Dictionary off the shelf. (Yes, sometimes there is information that is better researched in printed form rather than online.) It cites case authority stating the “lawyer” and “attorney” are synonymous.

However, the dictionary also provides the the following definition for “attorney”: “In the most general sense this term denotes an agent or substitute, or one who is appointed and authorized to act in the place or stead of another.” It then explains specific uses of the word – attorney at law, attorney in fact, etc. – and, thus, supports the distinction made above.

Dana H. Shultz, Attorney at Law  +1 510-547-0545  dana [at] danashultz [dot] com
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