Difference Between Lawyers, Attorneys, and Paralegals

For people whose only interaction with the court system is through popular television shows, it can be difficult to keep everything straight. Questions like “Are attorneys and lawyers the same thing?” and “What’s the difference between a lawyer and a paralegal?” may arise. It’s easiest to clear that all up in a straightforward manner by answering some of the most popular questions about the legal system.

Difference Between Lawyers, Attorneys, and Paralegals
Paralegals, Lawyers, and Attorneys—  Oh My!

Are attorneys and lawyers the same thing?

Realistically speaking, these two terms are nearly identical and could be used interchangeably. Both an attorney and a lawyer possess legal training. Technically, there are distinct differences in the two. Many states would reserve the terms “attorney” and “attorney at law” to refer to those who have had legal training. As for a lawyer, this is someone who has studied law. Anyone who attends law school could consider themselves a lawyer. However, a lawyer is not always an attorney. Only once they pass the bar exam can they legally represent someone. Lawyers can offer advice and share any skills they may have learned from training in law. Attorneys take it one step further and can appear in court on behalf of the client and create legal strategies. An attorney will always be a lawyer, even though a lawyer may not be an attorney. Furthermore, the difference between a lawyer and a paralegal are also quite different. A paralegal has had significantly less legal training than an attorney. They typically only need an associate or bachelor’s degree, whereas attorneys go through many more rigorous exams. Paralegals cannot practice law on their own. They must always be overseen by a licensed attorney. Lawyers can appear in court as a client representative. Paralegals cannot. The are are more likely to take notes, write contracts, or create wills. Essentially, their practice is more limited than it would be for an attorney.

What does a “J.D.” stand for?

The letters “J.D.” may be seen after someone’s name in a resume or CV, etc. This stands for Juris Doctor. After graduating from law school, a person may put “J.D.” after their name to signify that they have the Doctor of Jurisprudence degree. Even with a law degree, they are unauthorized to practice law until they take and pass the bar exam.

What does “Esq” or “Esquire” after a name mean?

Lawyers may have “Esq” or “Esquire” placed after their names. This is an honorary title. This confirms that the lawyer has taken and passed the bar exam. It is not legally mandatory for lawyers to add this at the end of their names, but it is not uncommon to see it on lawyers’ signs, business cards, and other professional places. In addition to having “Esquire” tacked on to the end of their name, the lawyer should also be able to provide a state bar number. This confirms their license.

What is the role of the attorney vs. the counsel, prosecutor, advocate, barrister, or solicitor?

Some of these terms are synonymous. They are used in different parts of the world to mean similar things. In the U.S., an attorney is someone who has the authority and legal training to practice law. This  is quite similar to a solicitor in the U.K., although there are some exceptions. In the U.K., if someone says that they will seek a lawyer, they usually mean a solicitor. Solicitors advise clients, draft legal documents, as well as begin negotiations. Perhaps the biggest difference between a solicitor and a barrister (which is also a term used in the U.K.) is that the latter function at a higher level in court. Barristers do not deal with public affairs as much as solicitors. Typically, a solicitor will perform all the necessary legal legwork outside of court while a barrister defends the case within the court. Exceptions do apply. The difference between a lawyer and a prosecutor is that the former plays the role of defense while the latter is offense. A prosecutor’s role is to find evidence to convict the guilty. The lawyer must defend the client and work to prove their innocence. Both prosecutors and lawyers complete the same level of education and legal training. An advocate is someone whose role is to present a case in court. In the U.S., this would be synonymous with an attorney. In the U.K., an advocate is similar to a barrister. Lastly, the counsel is a term which applies to the aforementioned. Rather than referring to “the lawyers of the defendant,” “the counsel of the defendant” can be used. It’s a term that encompasses all the legal representation of everyone immediately involved in court.

Scroll to Top
Call Now Button