What is the Difference Between a Lawyer and an Attorney?

It’s not every day you need legal representation. Because of that, many people don’t really know how to find the person best suited to fight on their behalf.

Although the words “lawyer” and “attorney” may sound like they mean the same thing, they don’t. 

Even though every attorney is a lawyer, a lawyer isn’t always an attorney. Knowing the difference between the two terms is essential in getting the legal guidance you need. 

Understanding How Lawyers and Attorneys Are Different

While a lawyer has studied U.S. and state law, and graduated from law school, only an attorney can legally represent you in a Texas court of law. 

In order to be able to do that, they need to have successfully passed the Texas bar exam and be licensed to practice law.

An attorney is a lawyer who has graduated from law school, passed the bar, met the moral character qualifications required, and has been licensed to practice. Some attorneys choose to practice in a particular specialty (personal injury, maritime law, workers’ compensation, criminal defense, etc.).

The Texas bar exam is an intense four-part examination of legal rules and concepts. It takes 2 ½ days to complete. The minimum passing grade is 675 out of a possible 1,000 points.

What a Lawyer Can Provide

Because they have a working knowledge of the U.S. legal system, a lawyer can be of incredible help to you. In fact, even though they can’t practice law in a courtroom, many lawyers maintain a long list of clients for their services.

In addition to helping an attorney strengthen a case, a lawyer can:

  • Help you with setting up a corporation
  • Advise you on a tax issue
  • Compose a prenuptial agreement
  • Give you legal advice and tell you about legal procedures
  • Draft and review contracts
  • Give guidance for protecting intellectual property with trademarks, copyrights, and patents.

Even though they may not have passed the Texas bar exam or be licensed, a lawyer can still be very useful. 

How an Attorney Can Help You

No two ways about it: if you have to go to court, it’s time to hire an attorney. When you think of the term “legal eagles,” an attorney is whom you have in mind. 

They can defend you in court, argue on your behalf, help you negotiate a plea, select jurors that are favorable to your side and more.

A licensed Texas attorney is your best resource to:

  • Pursue compensation and justice if someone else has injured you (personal injury attorney)
  • Represent you for an issue with the IRS (tax attorney)
  • Guide you through the process of a divorce or settling a child support or custody issue (family law attorney)
  • Recover compensation for the wrongful death of a loved one (personal injury attorney)
  • Negotiate a plea deal on your behalf (criminal defense attorney)
  • Assist you with an immigration matter (immigration attorney).

Remember, an attorney is the only person legally authorized to represent you in a courtroom – where the law is interpreted and applied.

Pay Attention to Their Name and Title

Most attorneys will use the initials “J.D.” or the word “Esquire” as part of their names. This lets you know they are attorneys.

The J.D. stands for Juris Doctor, which is the name of their law degree. Esquire or “Esq.” is a symbolic title that means they’ve passed the bar exam and are licensed to practice law within a particular area.

Attorneys From Out of State

If you want to use an out-of-state attorney for your Texas case, you’ll need to get approval from the Texas Board of Law Examiners

In order to be considered, the attorney must have:

  • A Juris Doctor degree from a law school that’s been approved by the American Bar Association
  • A license to practice law in another state
  • Been actively practicing law for at least five years before applying. 

It’s important to remember, though, that an out-of-state attorney may not have a full understanding of local and state laws.

Selecting an Attorney

If you’re in a situation that requires a legal solution, take your time and interview several lawyers and attorneys to find the best fit for you and your goals.

Don’t reactively go for the first name that appears in a Google search.

  • Make the effort to select a few who specialize in the area of law that fits your case (personal injury, family law, criminal defense).
  • Speak with them in person (ask if they’ve successfully handled cases similar to yours and how they see your case playing out).
  • Make sure you know the person who will serve as your point of contact about the status of your case.
  • Resist the urge to make an on-the-spot decision about your attorney. Instead, take the time to think things over in the comfort of your own home.

Again, even though both lawyers and attorneys have studied the law and can give you legal advice, not all lawyers can provide you with the same level of expertise as an attorney.