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Mostly, the terms ‘lawyer’ and ‘attorney’ are used to replace each other. Both the terms are related to the broad  field of law only and are similar in many ways. But can the words ‘lawyer’ and ‘attorney’ be used as exact synonyms for each other? Well, the answer to this is no. The difference between a lawyer and an attorney is quite apparent. Speaking in general, the lawyer and attorney both are a member of the law profession, they both specialize in various law domains but an attorney or attorney-at-law is someone who is qualified and licensed to represent a client in the court. Whereas a lawyer as defined is someone who is trained in the law domain and is qualified to provide legal aid and advice and to guide his clients in legal matters. Let’s try to understand these terms more distinctly.


After years of dedicated hours and hard work the aspirants graduate and get their law degrees to become a lawyer. At this stage they are qualified to give legal advice to the clients but if they are willing to practice law and to represent the clients in the court they have to clear the bar exam. However , it is not necessary for all lawyers to take the bar exam since it depends on one’s personal choice.


Technically, anyone after earning their degree of law can be called as a lawyer but people generally think that if someone is a lawyer then he must have passed the bar exam. Eventually this is not always the case. Some lawyers prefer to draft and write technical contracts, legal documents and wills etc., over representing a client in the court trials and such lawyers are not be confused with attorneys.

A lawyer may not have to argue a case in the court but he may help the attorney to strengthen his case.


Attorney is also a law degree holder but he must have taken the bar exam as well. Clearing  the bar exam is a mandatory protocol in order to represent a client in court trials. They study judicial laws and to practice law in court they earn license too. ‘Defend’, ‘plead’ and ‘argue’ are the three main jobs of an attorney. Attorney is derived from a French word “atorner”, which defines an agent picked by a client to act on his behalf. Attorneys are considered to be the real legal officers. 


There is another term similar to attorney-at-law and that is attorney-in-fact but their implication is very different. Attorney-in-fact is a temporary duty provided under Power of Attorney. They are individuals ( family members or close family friends) authorized to conduct transactions on behalf of the client. They don’t have to study law or take the bar exam.


We have already learned so far that lawyers and attorneys are not the same. The difference between a lawyer and an attorney is apparent and so the difference in their required skills.

Although the basic skills like interpersonal skills, communication skills, deep knowledge of law and jurisdiction and being updated with the dynamic laws, procedures and code of conduct is a must in both an attorney as well as a lawyer. 

Required skills in lawyers are:

  • Excellent writing skills
  • Skills to draft contracts and legal documents
  • Ability to handle critical issues legally and precisely
  • Proper understanding of procedural laws
  • If assisting an attorney then must be able to examine the case and evidence thoroughly.

Required skills in attorneys are:

  • Outstanding oral and written skills
  • Maintaining calm and composed behavior during case trials
  • Capable of interviewing the opposite party 
  • Must be aware of procedural laws, and other laws related to the case
  • Efficient in constructing strong structure and defense for the case
  • Convincing the jury and the judge to come to a favorable decision is another important skill.


If you are looking for someone to draft a legal document say will or an agreement then you need to hire a lawyer and not an attorney likewise, if you are looking for someone to defend you against some accusation or to represent you in the court as an accuser then you need to hire an attorney and not only a lawyer. 

The above mentioned fact along with the various type of required skills as well as the condition to pass the bar exam and get licensed marks the  difference between a lawyer and an attorney.


Anyone who studies law is a lawyer but the one who passes the bar exam and is qualified to represent a client in court trials is an attorney. Hence it can be said that all attorneys are lawyers but it is not necessary that all lawyers are attorneys. They both have equal importance in their respective fields and their demand is expanding day by day. However deciding to be a lawyer or an attorney is absolutely discretionary.


Shivangi Srivastava

Shivangi Srivastava is an aesthete, a bibliophile, to be more specific and an engineer, living in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh. She has been a co-author of more than 5 anthologies. Her constellation of words driven by her inquisitive nature, are her pride possessions. Aiming to be an author, presently she is polishing her writing skills and learning something new everyday as a freelance content writer.

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