We have gotten used to using the terms “lawyer” and “attorney” interchangeably. We loosely refer to lawyers and attorneys as those legal professionals who are licensed to practice law within a given state. 

However there is a slight difference between the two terms. Though the distinction is not important to some, it becomes important when looking for representation. This is especially true when a person has been accused of a serious crime – like a sex offense or domestic violence – and looking for help defending themselves in court.

The Difference is in Licensure

Both lawyers and attorneys have graduated from law school and obtained a Juris Doctor (JD) degree. However, only an attorney is licensed to practice law.  Thus, all attorneys are lawyers, but not all lawyers are attorneys.

Almost every state has licensure requirements for lawyers. Wisconsin is alone in that it allows a person to practice law if that person has graduated from an ABA-accredited law school in the state. There are only two ABA-accredited law schools in Wisconsin. Wisconsin requires a bar exam in all other circumstances.

Not every state requires that a person sitting for the bar examination in their state, have completed law school. 

California is among a handful of states that allow a person to forego law school. In these states, a person may read the law. Reading the law is similar to an apprenticeship and study program. It also saves a potential bar applicant a tremendous amount of money. The average cost of law school at a private institution during the 2019-2020 academic year was $49,548.

But this path is often long, and arduous—4 years for some. And the statistics for bar examination after reading the law are not favorable for the applicant. The bar pass rate can hover in the 20%-30% rate as opposed to the 70%-80% for applicants from an ABA-accredited law school. Other states that allow reading for the bar include Virginia, Vermont, and Washington.

The bar examination itself is arduous. It is meant to weed out those who do not meet threshold requirements for the practice of all. Bar exams vary from state to state, but all involve several days of testing across a broad range of legal subjects. It can take several months to study for the bar exam after graduating from law school.

Differences in Duties

There are some differences in duties between these two categories of legal professionals. Licensure carries with it a greater range of duties. 

Attorneys may appear in court, may keep a list of clients, may consult with clients, and offer advice. 

Think of a lawyer as a person who may consult with a client, may draft certain documents, and perform certain legal research tasks. However, a lawyer who is not licensed may not represent clients in court. His or her duties may have legal aspects, but do not involve directly representing a client’s interests before a judge or jury.

For example, Jan graduated from law school, and immediately went to work as a legislative aide to a member of Congress. Jan never took the bar exam. Jan is technically a “lawyer,” but does not practice law. Her duties are limited to legislative analysis. Jan is able to render opinions regarding the likely impact of legislation within her area of expertise.  She does not represent clients.

A Distinction Without a Difference?

Because the terms “lawyer” and “attorney” are virtually synonymous among most people in the United States, in some ways this may be a distinction without a difference. It is worth noting that the American Bar Association’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct prohibit the practice of law without a license. In order to practice law, an attorney must be licensed within their state. Often, attorneys may be licensed to practice in more than one state.

The real lesson here lies in the question of how to determine who to hire when looking for representation. Licensure matters, especially in matters requiring the intervention of a judge and jury. 

Would you trust a lawyer without proper credentials or licensure to represent you in a criminal matter? When looking to hire an attorney, it is possible to contact the state bar association in order to ensure that an attorney is licensed.

When looking for representation, you want to find an experienced attorney, licensed in the stated in which your legal matter is pending. This is especially true when looking for a criminal defense attorney. Experience and credentials matter.  

Contact the Cincinnati Criminal Defense Attorneys at Suhre & Associates DUI and Criminal Defense Lawyers For Help Today

For more information, contact the criminal defense attorneys at Suhre & Associates DUI and Criminal Defense Lawyers give us a call today at (513) 333-0014 or visit us at our Cincinnati Law Office.

Suhre & Associates DUI and Criminal Defense Lawyers – Cincinnati
600 Vine Street, Suite 1004
Cincinnati, OH 45202
United States