Attorney vs. Lawyer – What’s the Difference?

If you are sued for gross negligence by someone who was injured as a result of your careless actions, who will represent you in court?

You could represent yourself, but that might be a risky idea. Civil litigation is not a realm where amateurs generally thrive.

Most of the time, people are represented by legal professionals when they go to court. If you know you are at fault but don’t want to suffer the legal consequences, you had better find a talented practitioner.

So, should you be looking for a lawyer or attorney? Is there any real difference between these titles?

Continue reading to find out, but remember, this post is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as qualified legal advice. The author is not liable for any decision made or action taken in reliance on the information on this site.

What is the Difference Between an Attorney and Lawyer?

In this article, I will compare attorney vs. lawyer. I will use each of these words in example sentences, so you can see them in context.

I will also include a memory tool that should help you choose attorney or lawyer in your next piece of writing.

When to Use Lawyer

attorney versus lawyerWhat does lawyer mean? A lawyer is a person who practices law. In the United States, a license is required for this type of work. Lawyers represent plaintiffs and defendants in court, and also give advice to clients on legal issues.

For example:

  • My lawyer says that I would have a fantastic case if I brought it to court.
  • When Carrie Fisher notified Harrison Ford that she planned to divulge the details of their affair in a memoir, he reportedly raised a finger and simply said, “Lawyer!”
  • She is a daughter of Joan L. Lewis and Ira E. Goldberg of New York. The bride’s father is a lawyer in New York. –The New York Times

The word lawyer is a singular noun. Its plural form is lawyers.

When to Use Attorney

define attorney define lawyerWhat does attorney mean? Attorney is a synonym for lawyer.

  • Acosta could decide to revise the regulation or to delay it further, but the department will need to conduct research to justify making major changes to a rule that’s already been finalized, says Erin Sweeney, an attorney at Miller & Chevalier who consults employers and financial firms seeking to comply with the rule. –The Washington Post

Some individuals who practice law prefer the term attorney to lawyer. Lawyer is more likely to carry negative connotations of dishonesty.

In proper English, attorney refers to an agent who conducts business for someone else. Thus, a lawyer who represents a client in court is an attorney. The phrase attorneys-at-law, which refers to partners at a law firm, speaks to this usage, as does the phrase power of attorney.

An attorney is someone who conducts business for someone else. In other words, not all lawyers are attorneys. A lawyer only becomes an attorney when he or she has a client.

Still, the words are used interchangeably in common English. For what it’s worth, lawyer has been the slightly more popular term for over 160 years.

Trick to Remember the Difference

definition of attorney definition of lawyer definitionThe distinction between these two terms is rarely, if ever, observed—even by those who deal with the law on a full-time basis.

Still, if you have an overly pedantic boss or instructor, you will need to know the difference between these words.

  • A lawyer is a person who practices law.
  • An attorney conducts business on behalf of another person.

Since the original usage of attorney is similar to the modern usage of agent in this sense, you can use their shared beginning letter A to remember that an attorney is an agent.


Is it attorney or lawyer? Attorney and lawyer and are two terms for a person who practices law.

  • Attorney used to mean an agent who conducts business for a client.
  • A lawyer is technically one type of attorney.

Some practitioners of law prefer attorney to lawyer, but in everyday speech, the words are used interchangeably.