An Attorney vs. Lawyer: 3 Differences You Should Know

The legal profession offers a variety of rewarding and demanding career opportunities. Becoming an attorney or a lawyer are two popular career paths in this area. 

These two professions have some similarities, but they also have several distinctions. All lawyers can be attorneys, but not all attorneys are lawyers. There is a variety of both, such as North Carolina Criminal Defense Attorneys and divorce lawyers. This article discusses the distinctions between an attorney and a lawyer.


The definition of a lawyer is different from that of an attorney. A lawyer is anyone who has studied the law of a particular country and is familiar with how the judicial system works. They are required to attend law school and pass the bar exam.

 Lawyers can give legal advice to people and companies who may need it. They, however, can not represent clients in court. On the other hand, an attorney is a person who is legally permitted to represent or act on behalf of another person. 

An attorney at law is a court of a law officer who has the authority to represent an individual in a legal proceeding. Attorneys of law are required to attend law school and pass the bar exam.


Lawyers and Attorneys perform different duties. Lawyers are bound by a strict code of ethics that they must follow. They take on a variety of positions, which are mostly determined by their specialization and the position they hold. 

Lawyers can either be supporters, plead for other people, or argue for their cause. They can also serve as consultants, offering direct guidance in a given situation. They have the ability to represent their clients in civil and criminal proceedings.

An attorney, on the other hand, particularly one with a Power of Attorney, has the authority to make financial and legal decisions for a company. This authority is granted in the form of a contract that specifies the attorney’s rights within the company. Individuals may also act in the capacity of a Power of Attorney for other individuals.

When this happens, one receives the authority to make financial, medical, and legal decisions for another person. An attorney at law performs the same functions as a lawyer and is bound by the same code of ethics. They can provide legal advice and argue cases.

Education and Licensure

The way these two practitioners use their education is the most significant difference between them. An attorney has taken and passed the bar exam, while a lawyer may or may not have finished it. The state’s bar association administers the bar exam, which contains questions that assess knowledge of state-specific laws as well as general legal concepts. 

The exam usually lasts two to three days and needs a significant amount of preparation time.

Lawyers and prosecutors are both law school graduates. In law school, students learn about federal and state legislation, previous cases, and how to apply reasoning and interpretation to specific client needs.

Students who complete law school usually receive a Juris Doctor (JD) degree. Most lawyers and attorneys have attained this degree. One could also choose to do a Master of Laws (LLM) degree, a higher-level certification that grants the holder global law credibility.

An LLM program’s curriculum is determined by the university that offers it. Other universities provide specialist courses in subfields, and lawyers specialize in legal officers or legal counsel lawyers. On the other hand, an attorney could specialize to become a staff attorney, drug charges attorney, Drug Charges Attorney, litigation attorney, or patent attorney.

Jargon and other formal terms abound in the legal profession. Understanding them reduces the confusion that comes along with it. There is very little distinction between a lawyer and an attorney, but they are not the same.