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What’s the Difference Between a Lawyer and an Attorney? (2019 Update)

What’s the Difference Between a Lawyer and an Attorney? (2019 Update)

Hear the term 'attorney' used often in movies or TV shows? Find out what it means and how it differs from being a lawyer here.

21st February 2019

In popular culture, we often see the terms ‘lawyer’ and ‘attorney’ used interchangeably. It is understandable that people may think they mean the same thing. However, they are significantly different both in what they actually do and where the terms are used.

This article will discuss what the difference between what a lawyer and an attorney is. In the event that you ever need to hire a legal professional, it’s important to know who does what in the legal industry.

Lawyers in Australia

A lawyer, in Australia, is a broad term referring to any person who has been admitted to the legal profession as a barrister or solicitor. The term ‘lawyer’ often used to describe both barristers and solicitors. However, solicitors and barristers are very different. A solicitor advises clients and prepare legal matters. Barristers are experts in advocacy and preparing cases for trial.

Although not commonly used, ‘attorney’ in Australia tends to refer to solicitors rather than barristers. The reason for this ambiguity is that ‘attorney’ isn’t used frequently in Australia. It is just a synonym for the word ‘solicitor’, which has developed due to it’s common use in American lexicon.

In the United States

However, the term ‘attorney’ does not have the same meaning as it does within the United States legal system. In the United States, the term ‘attorney’ is very different to what Australians consider a ‘lawyer’. Within the United States legal system, ‘attorney’ is short for an attorney of law. It refers strictly to an individual who is able to prosecute, and defend cases in a Court of law.

In essence, this means you can only be an attorney if you appear in court to represent your clients, passed the bar exam, and have permission to practice in a jurisdiction. Like in Australia, a lawyer is a general term for those that provide legal guidance.

An attorney is a lawyer, but a lawyer is not necessarily an attorney.

Trademark/Patent Attorney: An exception?

A Trademark Attorney is the exception to the rule within Australia. Those who are qualified to represent clients in matters of intellectual property law, adopt the official title of ‘attorney’. They are represented by organisations, such as The Institute of Patent and TradeMark Attorneys of Australia, who also acknowledge that this is the official title for those working in intellectual law. But remember even if they hold this title of ‘attorney’ for all intents and purposes, they are solicitors, and barristers.

Long story short, if you need legal guidance, then contact a solicitor or a barrister.

Don’t know where to start? Contact a LawPath consultant on 1800 529 728 to learn more about customising legal documents and obtaining a fixed-fee quote from Australia’s largest legal marketplace.

Anthony Guerrieri

Anthony is a Paralegal working in our content team, which writes free legal guides aimed at improving public awareness of legal and business issues. Anthony has an interest in simplifying complex legal problems in order to allow people to understand their legal dilemmas.