From television to movies, on billboards, and in commercials, we commonly hear and see the words “lawyer” and “attorney.” Are they two different jobs or do they mean the same thing?

When you need legal advice, it really does not matter if a person advertises as a “lawyer” or an “attorney.” What matters is whether they have a license to practice law in your state. 

What is a Bar License?

Each state handles the law that governs the practice of law in that state. The entity that manages law licenses is called the “state bar” or the “bar association.” 

Within bar associations, attorneys can join “sections” that focus on specific areas of practice, like personal injury law (car accidents). Attorneys and lawyers who focus on one area of practice develop skills and knowledge in that practice area. 

What Does a Lawyer or an Attorney Do? 

Black’s Law Dictionary (the authoritative source for legal definitions), defines a lawyer first as “a person learned in the law.” Having specialized knowledge of the law, a lawyer’s business is to prosecute or defend cases or offer legal advice for money. 

The law is complex. It is so complex that the “bar exam,” the test all attorneys and lawyers must pass before they earn a license to practice law, is a week-long marathon. After passing the bar exam, most lawyers begin to work on developing a deep knowledge in a single area of the law. 

Corporate Lawyers 

Corporate lawyers offer legal advice and legal representation to corporations. A lawyer working for a corporation owning nursing homes may deal with issues of nursing home abuse or medical malpractice

Most corporate lawyers try to give legal advice to their clients to help them avoid lawsuits. This is called “minimizing risk” in business and legal terms. When a company is named as a defendant in a lawsuit, a corporate attorney may be required to negotiate a settlement or litigate a case at trial. 

Family Lawyers 

Family lawyers specialize in legal matters that relate to family statutes, such as divorce, child custody, and financial support. In some cases, family lawyers have to help their clients address issues surrounding a child’s welfare and their estate. Usually, this occurs when a child needs special medical care following accidents like birth injuries

In these cases, a family law attorney might help parents set up a trust for medical care with the proceeds of a lawsuit. Money in a lawsuit that is awarded for quantifiable expenses, like medical care, is called economic damages. A family lawyer might also refer parents in this situation to an estate attorney. 

Estate Attorneys

Estate attorneys deal with matters of a person’s estate. “Estate” is simply the legal term for all of a person’s property and assets. Often, following the receipt of a major money judgment in a case, like a wrongful death lawsuit, families hire estate attorneys to legally protect the assets.

Sometimes, a person’s estate includes the proceeds of a life insurance policy. If an insurance company acts in bad faith in refusing to honor the terms of a contract, the company can face legal penalties. An estate attorney might refer families in a situation like this to a different type of lawyer whose skills are better suited to resolving contractual disputes. 

Personal Injury Attorneys

Personal injury attorneys handle cases where a person or entity is responsible for another person’s injuries. Personal injury cases can involve a wide variety of situations. Here are some types of cases handled by personal injury attorneys. 

Premises Liability

Premises liability is the responsibility of a landowner to reasonably ensure the safety of others on their property. It applies to homeowners, who are often responsible for dog bite injuries or drowning incidents that happen at their home. It also applies to business owners, who can be held responsible for injuries from slip-and-fall accidents, like back injuries.

Vehicle Crashes

In most vehicle crashes, an insurance party will be responsible for damages. In some cases, more than one insurance company may be responsible for damages. 

A complicated (but not unrealistic) example is if a distracted driver collides with a commercial vehicle carrying a substance in violation of transportation and safety regulations. The driver may be responsible for the injuries resulting from the crash, like whiplash or other soft tissue injuries

If the driver suffers from toxic chemical exposure after the truck accident, however, the truck driver, the driver’s employer, as well as their insurance company may be responsible for injuries resulting from the exposure. 

Difference Between Lawyer and Attorney

If you’re still not sure about the difference between lawyer and attorney: there isn’t one! Both words are used to describe a person who holds a license to practice law. 

Lawyers and attorneys offer legal advice and represent clients in lawsuits. If you have questions about your legal rights, it helps to find an attorney whose practice area matches your issue.