August 26, 2021 | Oklahoma Law
Many people find themselves wondering, “what is the difference between lawyer and attorney?” It is easy to see why there is confusion surrounding this subject. These terms are used interchangeably in daily conversation, but some still argue that the two words actually have slightly different meanings.
Lawyer vs. Attorney In Daily Use
In daily use, what is the difference between lawyer and attorney? In the United States, the terms lawyer and attorney are used interchangeably in nearly every context. Whether in court or at a coffee shop, you are fine to use both as having the same meaning.
If you get in trouble with the police, you could invoke your Sixth Amendment right to counsel by requesting to speak with an attorney, or by asking for a lawyer. These two requests will be treated one and the same by police and judges.
Lawyers introducing each other say “she’s an attorney” to one person and “she’s a lawyer” to the very next person they introduce them to. It has no difference to them. Attorneys will also refer to themselves as a lawyer on their website.
Formal Differences Between “Lawyer” and “Attorney”
Formally, there is a difference between a lawyer and an attorney. However, as discussed previously, this difference is pretty much never acknowledged by anyone. The only time this difference really comes in handy is to impress friends with your trivia knowledge.
Technically speaking a lawyer is anyone who graduated from law school, regardless of whether or not they obtained a license to practice law from the Oklahoma Bar Exam. Obtaining a law license requires the additional steps of taking and passing the bar exam and satisfying character and fitness requirements. A lawyer may either not be a member of the bar, or they may be a member of the bar but are not actively practicing law.
An “attorney” on the other hand formally refers to someone who has graduated from law school and is an active member of the Oklahoma State Bar. This means they passed the bar exam, satisfied the character and fitness requirements, and are representing clients. An attorney is always fully licensed and actively practicing law, representing clients in personal injury cases, criminal matters, or handling contract disputes. unlike a lawyer who is not actively practicing law.
Lawyers may choose not to take the bar exam to pursue other types of work. Also, a lawyer may be a former attorney who left the practice of law to do something else. They graduated from law school, so they are lawyers. But without an active law license, they are not technically attorneys.
Because of this, many law school graduates who do not currently practice law will put on their Linkedin or resume that they are a lawyer, but they will avoid using the term attorney. This is an acknowledgement to the distinction between the two.
The distinction between attorney and lawyer does exist, but it is almost never acknowledged except in very specific contexts.
What Term Should I Use, Lawyer or Attorney?
Now that you know what the difference is between lawyer and attorney, you may be left wondering which term you should use as you go about your daily life in Oklahoma! The answer is simple. For everyday use, lawyer and attorney have the exact same meaning and it does not matter which term you use.
The only people who acknowledge a difference between the two terms are law school graduates who aren’t practicing law. They will carefully use the term lawyer instead of attorney since they aren’t actively practicing law. However, even attorneys use both interchangeably.
Don’t get hung up wondering about the differences. Just keep using both! You’re probably the only person in the room who knows the difference between the two words now, so nobody will notice.