The legal profession offers lots of different opportunities for those interested in the practice of law.
Some law students attend law school because they want to represent clients in courts of law. Others opt instead to obtain a law degree but with the intent to work outside the courtroom as a consultant or adviser.
This in fact is what sets the stage to better understand and answer the lawyer vs. attorney question, who does what, and which route best suits your interests.
What is a lawyer?
You might not think it, as the titles are used interchangeably, but there is a difference between a lawyer and an attorney. Viewed one way, a lawyer is simply the first step towards becoming an attorney. That is because lawyers are those who have graduated from law school. This education allows them to provide legal advice to others. But what they cannot do is represent clients in court. That role is reserved for those who have passed the bar.
But while some may consider a lawyer as the first step towards becoming an attorney, others become lawyers without ever wanting to be an attorney. Many lawyers prefer to work for attorneys or opt instead to work outside the practice of law as consultants or in fields that can benefit from an understanding of the law without having to formally practice it.
What is an attorney?
An attorney is someone who has graduated from law school and passed the bar exam in the state in which they practice law. Put more simply, an attorney is a lawyer who has passed the bar exam. And because they have passed the bar exam, attorneys can act as legal representatives for their clients in court.
When trying to remember the difference between an attorney vs. a lawyer, it may be helpful to remember that all attorneys are lawyers, but not all lawyers are attorneys. The major difference is that attorneys can represent clients in court and other legal proceedings, while lawyers cannot.
What is Esquire (ESQ)?
You may have also seen the abbreviation ESQ next to an attorney’s name and wondered what it was. ESQ means Esquire, which is an honorary title placed after a practicing attorney’s name. Only attorneys have the right to use this honorary title, meaning, the title Esquire is reserved for those who have completed law school and passed the bar. However, besides being an honorary title, the term does not have much use and is rarely employed by practicing attorneys.
Do attorneys have specialties?
In some professions, like doctors or accountants, there are certain specialties one can follow. For example, a doctor may choose to specialize in neurosurgery or gastroenterology. And accountants may choose to specialize in tax or forensic accounting.
To some extent, the same thing exists in the practice of law. While in law school, students are exposed to a wide range of classes. During their studies, students will gravitate towards classes that teach the material these students expect will align best with their intended career path. Once out of law school, students will pick a career path and earn experience in a particular practice area that will in some sense be their specialty.
Here are common practice areas or specialties:
Thousands of full-time and remote jobs in every industry. Search jobs.
We'll find you the right candidate, fast. Get started.
Our recruiters connect people with great opportunities and help our clients build amazing teams. Learn more.