Difference Between Attorney vs. Lawyer

Attorney vs. Lawyer … Is There a Difference?

On this page, we will address the myth that has recently been regurgitated on the internet that there is some sort of difference between a “lawyer” versus an “attorney.” There is no actual, legal difference between a lawyer and an attorney. Lawyer and attorney are both descriptive words used to refer to a person who is an “attorney-at-law” meaning that have been admitted to the bar and are licensed to practice law in their state.

The Myth That Lawyer and Attorney Are Different

In the last few years, the internet and social media have essentially created a myth that there is a distinction between a lawyer versus an attorney. If you do a google search for “difference between lawyer and attorney” you will a variety of seemingly authoritative search results claiming that a “lawyer” is actually different than an “attorney.” All of these sites appear to be authoritative and convincing, but if you read through the different results, they are not even consistent. Moreover, they are all false.

The most popular myth about the supposed difference between a lawyer versus an attorney is that a “lawyer” is someone who graduated law school (or studied law) but has not passed the bar exam or been admitted to the bar. In other words, this myth suggests that if you get a law degree you are a lawyer, once you pass the bar exam you become an attorney. This completely bogus myth can be found on several fairly authoritative websites, including Indeed.com and, most prominently, Westcoasttriallawyers.com.

These websites go into great detail about this supposed difference between lawyer and attorney, but none of them actual cite to ANY sort of authoritative law, rule, regulation or anything at all as support. The reason is because there is not law, rule, or regulation (in any state) that actually says there is a difference between “lawyer” and “attorney.”

If you scroll down the page on the search results for “difference between lawyer and attorney” the answers and explanations you find will actually start to get different. According to juriseducation.com (and several other sites) the difference between lawyers and attorneys has to with specialization.  Based on absolutely no authority whatsoever, these websites claim that “lawyers” have a more general field of law practice, whereas attorneys specialize. Again, this is completely false.

Yet another variation of the lawyer vs. attorney myth can be found on several other websites. This version claims that an “attorney” is someone who is allowed to represent clients in court … while a “lawyer” supposedly cannot … although apparently both are admitted to the bar? The fact that you have at least 4 different versions of an answer to the same question should be the first clue none of these websites have it right.

There is No Difference Between Lawyer and Attorney

The truth is that there is no difference between lawyers and attorneys. Lawyer and attorney and simply two different words used to describe the same thing …. a person who is licensed to practice law in the sate. The American Bar Association makes this fact very clear with the following definition on its website:

A lawyer (also called attorney, counsel, or counselor) is a licensed professional who advises and represents others in legal matters.

The ABA also uses the term “lawyer” to refer to attorneys-at-law throughout the model rules of professional conduct. This is very significant because most states have adopted the model rules (literally word-for-word) as their own professional conduct rules for lawyers/attorneys in their state. That means that the state authorities who issue licenses to practice law make no distinction between “lawyers” and “attorneys.” They view the terms as interchangeable.

The use of “lawyer” and “attorney” as synonyms with no distinction can also be found in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the U.S. Code, and various state statutes. The dictionary definitions of the terms also support the lack of any difference. Both the preeminent Black’s Law Dictionary and standard English dictionaries (such as Merriam-Webster) treat the terms “lawyer” and “attorney” as equivalents. The U.S. Department of Labor also uses lawyer and attorney synonymously.

A recent article published in U.S. News & World Report clarified the issue. By explained that “lawyer” and “attorney” are effectively legal synonyms. A practitioner may choose a term to describe themselves as an attorney, counselor or lawyer, but it’s more about personal preference.

Where Does the Attorney vs. Lawyer Distinction Myth Come From?

There is a very simple answer to this question: the internet. In the world we live in today, google and the internet tend to be the arbiters and dispensers of fact. The myth about a distinction between lawyers and attorneys is basically an “internet-created-fact.”

Many people assume that google fact-checks things or that if they read something online (from what appears to be a reliable source) it must be true. That is absolutely not the case. Anyone who has a website can publish anything online and it they rank high in the google algorithm, the content they publish will have the appearance of authoritative fact. The reality, however, is that google’s algorithm does not have the ability to fact check things. When you do a google search for a question like “what is the difference between a lawyer and an attorney?” … the top search result is NOT the one that accurate and correct. Rather, the top search result is the one from the website with the highest SEO rating – a factor that has basically nothing to do with the accuracy of content on the website.

Once certain content gets published on the internet and starts getting traffic (i.e., read by others) it tends to get copied, reworded, and republished on various other websites. So the myth about lawyers vs. attorneys may have initially been published on a single website, but by now its been reposted, republished, retweeted, etc. on hundreds, possibly thousands of different websites and platforms (all starting from the single source). When this happens it gives something the strong appearance of truth and accuracy … when you see 3 websites saying the same thing it must be true … right? Not really. These 3 websites saying the same thing are basically just copies of each other.

Why do websites publish factually incorrect content? Again the answer here is simple: to get internet traffic.

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