Attorney vs. Lawyer: When to Use Lawyer vs. Attorney (with Useful Examples)

When we talk about the legal profession, the terms attorney vs. lawyer are often used interchangeably. If you ever find yourself sued for one reason or the other, whom are you going to call to represent you in court? Certainly, you can represent yourself. But if you want a qualified professional, you are going to hire an attorney. Or are you going to hire a lawyer? These words seem to have very similar meanings, so it’s best to figure out if there are any significant differences.

Attorney vs. Lawyer: The Main Differences

Key Takeaways

  • An attorney is a type of lawyer who can act as a legal representative in court.
  • A lawyer is someone who is trained and educated in law.
  • Understanding the distinction is important when seeking legal representation or advice.

Attorney vs. Lawyer

The Definitions

What Is an Attorney?

An attorney, or more specifically an attorney-at-law, refers to an individual who is not only trained in the law but also has been admitted to practice law in a particular jurisdiction. Essentially, an attorney has passed the bar exam and is licensed to represent clients in court, provide legal advice, and perform legal work that involves the application of the law.

Our key point here is that being an attorney involves active participation in legal proceedings and offering a full range of legal services to clients.


  • Representing clients in court
  • Filing legal documents
  • Offering legal advice

What Is a Lawyer?

lawyer, on the other hand, is someone who has completed legal studies and obtained a degree in law. This person may have extensive knowledge of the law but isn’t necessarily authorized to practice law in a court or offer legal representation to clients until they pass the bar exam and fulfill other requisite licensing criteria.

Not all lawyers necessarily take the bar exam; those who do not are often unable to represent clients in court. However, they can be involved in other roles where legal expertise is required, like consulting, teaching or policy making.

Roles Include:

  • Legal consultants
  • Law professors
  • Policy advisors

The Key Differences between Lawyer and Attorney

A LAWYER is a person who practices the law, while an ATTORNEY is a person who handles business for someone else.

In common English, these two words are used interchangeably when referring to people who represent their clients in court. However, strictly speaking, you can’t say that all lawyers are attorneys. A lawyer only becomes an attorney when he has a client, i.e. when he has someone to conduct business for.

Some people who practice law call themselves exclusively attorneys because they believe that the title of a lawyer is associated with dishonesty and other negative connotations.

However, the distinction between these two terms is very rarely observed in everyday speech or even by those who’ve made dealing with law their profession. So, everyone will understand what you mean, and nobody will probably get offended, no matter if you call someone a lawyer or an attorney.

Still, if you want to be completely correct, remember that an attorney is an agent hired by a client to represent him or to conduct any other kind of business for him. A lawyer who’s working with a client is simply one type of attorney.

Attorney vs. Lawyer Examples

Example Sentences Using “Attorney”

  • The attorney presented the evidence to the jury with confidence.
  • She hired an attorney to handle her legal matters after the accident.
  • The attorney specialized in family law and had a reputation for being compassionate.
  • During the trial, the defense attorney argued that his client was innocent.
  • The attorney general announced a new initiative to combat cybercrime.
  • As a corporate attorney, he advised companies on complex legal transactions.
  • The attorney met with the witness to prepare for the upcoming deposition.

Example Sentences Using “Lawyer”

  • The lawyer reviewed the contract carefully before advising her client to sign it.
  • After the accident, he decided to consult a lawyer to understand his rights.
  • The lawyer stood up to address the court, ready to present his closing arguments.
  • She is a well-respected lawyer known for her expertise in intellectual property law.
  • When starting a business, it’s wise to work with a lawyer to avoid any legal pitfalls.
  • The lawyer worked late into the night preparing the case for trial.
  • As a defense lawyer, he had a track record of successfully representing his clients.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the primary duties of an attorney?

Our primary duties as attorneys include representing clients in legal proceedings, providing legal advice, and preparing the necessary documents for court cases or other legal transactions.

What’s the difference between an attorney and a lawyer in Canada?

In Canada, the terms attorney and lawyer are often used interchangeably. However, traditionally, an attorney refers to someone who is legally appointed to act for another person in business or legal matters, and a lawyer is anyone qualified to practice law, which includes attorneys.

How does one pursue a career in law to become an attorney?

To pursue a career as an attorney, we typically complete a bachelor’s degree followed by a Juris Doctor (JD) degree from a law school accredited by the American Bar Association. Afterward, we must pass the bar examination in the state where we wish to practice.

Could you explain the various types of attorneys and their areas of specialization?

Certainly, there are several types of attorneys with various specializations. Some of us specialize in family law, others in criminal law, corporate law, intellectual property, or environmental law, to name a few. Each field has its complexities and requires a deep understanding of specific legal frameworks and terminologies.

How does the salary range for attorneys vary by field and experience level?

Our salary as attorneys can greatly vary depending on our field of specialization and experience level. Attorneys in corporate law or with expertise in high-demand areas typically command higher salaries, while those starting in public service roles may earn less initially but often find rewards in the impact of their work.

What is the process called when you engage the services of an attorney?

When you engage our services, it’s typically known as “retaining an attorney”. This involves signing a contract or agreement and often requires payment of a retainer fee, which serves as a down payment on future services.