What is the Difference Between Lawyer and Attorney?

Many people use the terms “lawyer” and “attorney” interchangeably. This is a common mistake. In reality, not all lawyers are attorneys.

Someone qualifies as a lawyer if they have earned a law degree or Juris Doctor degree. This does not make them an attorney. To qualify as an attorney, they need to be licensed to practice law in the state where they work.

For example, you might be searching for a personal injury attorney in San Diego. Not everyone in the area who possesses a law degree will be able to serve your needs. You must find a genuine attorney to ensure you have proper representation. The following overview will help you better understand the key differences between lawyers and attorneys, and why those differences matter.

California’s State Bar Licensing and Admission Requirements

To be a practicing attorney in California, one must be licensed by the State Bar. The California State Bar’s admission requirements include:

  • Registering as a law student or attorney applicant
  • Providing a Social Security Number
  • Receiving a JD degree from a law school that is either California-accredited via the State Bar or has been approved by the American Bar Association (although there are other ways to meet the State Bar’s education requirements in some circumstances)
  • Passing the California Bar Examination
  • Successfully completing the First-Year Law Students’ Exam after completing one’s first year of law study
  • Passing the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination
  • Undergoing a background check to ensure one possesses a strong moral character
  • Proving one is complying with or has complied with court orders regarding child and/or family support

These are the requirements one must meet in order to be considered a practicing attorney in California. These requirements do not necessarily apply to those who merely wish to be known as lawyers.

That said, some practicing attorneys may nevertheless refer to themselves as lawyers on their websites and in their marketing content. This is because they know that many outside the legal profession think both terms mean the same thing. Thus, you should not reject a candidate from the list of attorneys you’re considering hiring simply because their website or similar materials refer to them as a lawyer at times.

What Lawyers Can and Can’t Do

A lawyer is not permitted to practice law if they have not met the requirements necessary to qualify as an attorney. That means they can’t provide you with legal representation if, for example, you were to file a medical malpractice lawsuit. A lawyer practicing law in California despite not being licensed to do so could face a range of penalties.

However, those who have graduated law school but have not been admitted to the California Bar can potentially apply their knowledge of the law in other ways. For example, they may fill positions that involve frequently conducting basic legal research. They might also fill roles that require conducting investigations. Additionally, they can take on jobs that may involve basic review of documents that their legal knowledge will help them interpret. In general, though, they are not allowed to provide legal advice.

For example, some who have graduated law school have opted to become investigative journalists or similar professionals instead of choosing to become attorneys. This highlights the fact that licensed attorneys possess unique skills that differentiate them from others who have graduated from law school but have gone on to pursue careers outside the legal field.

Choosing an Attorney in San Diego

It is very important that you confirm someone is a licensed attorney before hiring them to handle your personal injury case in California. You can use the California State Bar’s database search tool to determine whether someone is a licensed attorney or whether they are merely pretending to be fully-licensed.

It’s also critical to account for numerous other factors when deciding which attorney to hire. Your goal is to choose an attorney who has experience handling cases like yours. A proven track record of consistent success is another essential quality. By taking the time to choose the right attorney, you will significantly boost the odds of winning your case.