Lawyer – Attorney; What is the difference?

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Attorney, Lawyer, What is the Difference?

What is the difference between a “lawyer” and an “attorney” or is there a difference?

Years ago, a student in Georgia told me that he was clerking for a judge. Routinely, the judge would refer to lawyers and attorneys in a manner that seemed to imply that they were different? He didn’t want to share his lack of understanding with that judge for something that was so basic. So he asked me if there was a difference? That sent me to the internet to research the matter. Indeed, there is a difference, but not one that is widely understood or distinguished.

If you look at the definition of lawyer at, you will find the following;

Lawyer, one trained and licensed to prepare, manage, and either prosecute or defend a court action as an agent for another and who also gives advice on legal matters that may or may not require court action.

So, a lawyer is someone authorized to practice law in a given jurisdiction under the rules for admission under that Bar.

An “attorney” on the other hand comes from the French “atorne”, or “(one) appointed”. In other words, an agent for another. So “attorney” means nothing more than “agent”  See:

early 14c. (mid-13c. in Anglo-Latin), from Old French atorné “(one) appointed,” past participle of aturner “to decree, assign, appoint,” from atorner (see attorn). The legal Latin form attornare influenced the spelling in Anglo-French. The sense is of “one appointed to represent another’s interests.”

So an “attorney” has a broader meaning than “lawyer”. For all lawyers are attorneys=agents, but all attorneys (agents) are not lawyers!

If you draft a power of attorney for your client, the agent is called an “attorney in fact”. This means “agent in fact”. Someone who is counseling clients and is a member of the Bar may advertise, “Attorney At Law” in recognition of their status as a legal practitioner for individuals.

So that is the distinction counselor! Have a great day.

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