Lawyers and attorneys are a lot like insurance. You hope you don’t need them, but you’re a whole lot better off with them on your side when the going gets tough.

While it’s common to use the terms “lawyer” and “attorney” interchangeably, there’s actually a difference between the two.  Knowing the difference is not only important grammatically, but it can also help you tremendously in making the right choice for legal representation.

What Are the Qualifications of a Lawyer?

Simply put, a lawyer is someone who has studied law and has a working knowledge of the U.S. judicial system.

While they may be able to give you legal advice, there are certain legal jobs they aren’t permitted to do – represent you in court, for example – unless they have successfully passed the bar exam.

The Ohio Bar Exam is much like other state bar examinations. It consists of an essay portion, a multiple choice section, and a performance test.

To pass the exam, a lawyer must score at least 405 out of a possible 600 points.

When Should I Talk With a Lawyer?

Again, the things a lawyer can do are somewhat limited.

Since a lawyer has studied law, though, they can be a good resource if you need:

  • Help drawing-up a will or trust
  • Want advice on a tax issue
  • Have questions about an immigration matter
  • Need to develop a pre-nuptial or post-nuptial agreement, or
  • Answers to questions about basic legal procedures and language.

Again, even if they haven’t taken or passed the bar exam, a lawyer can still be an invaluable resource for you in certain situations.

What Are the Qualifications of an Attorney?

Like a lawyer, an attorney studies law and the workings of the U.S. judicial system.

However, an attorney is someone who has graduated from a law school, successfully passed the bar exam, and who complies with a code of ethics. Attorneys often specialize in a specific aspect of law (criminal defense, personal injury, bankruptcy, divorce, medical malpractice, etc.).

Also, an attorney is someone who can actually represent you in a court of law. It’s in the courtroom setting where an attorney will not only interpret the law, they apply their working knowledge of the law for your needs.

In addition to representing their client’s needs in a courtroom, an attorney is also skilled in the process of negotiating deals with opposing attorneys.

For someone facing criminal charges, these negotiation, defending, and pleading skills can be highly effective in having the charges dismissed completely or significantly reduced.

When Should I Talk With an Attorney?

The skills of an attorney can help you immensely – especially if you’re facing criminal charges.

Other times when the skills of an attorney are vital include:

  • When you have a conflict with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS)
  • You’re thinking of pleading guilty to a charge – regardless of guilt
  • You’re either thinking about filing for divorce or have already been served by your spouse or partner
  • Charges of driving under the influence (DUI) have been brought against you
  • You want to pursue compensation for being injured because of someone else’s negligence, or
  • You’re being sued.

Remember, while attorneys and lawyers have studied U.S. law and can provide you with legal advice, a lawyer cannot perform all of the duties of an attorney.

What’s Up With Other Lawyer Names?

You may see the initials “J.D.” or the word “Esquire” with a lawyer or attorney’s name.

J.D. is short for Juris Doctor – which is also the phrase for a law degree. Much like a person with a doctoral degree will have “Ph. D.” after their name, J.D. means that a person has graduated from an accredited law school and can take the bar exam.

It doesn’t necessarily mean they’ve passed the bar exam, though.

The term “Esquire,” or “Esq.” for short, is sort of an honorary title but it carries plenty of weight. It signifies that a person is an attorney and is licensed to practice law in their jurisdiction.

How Do I Select the Best Lawyer or Attorney for Me?

In any legal matter, you need to make sure that the relationship between you and your lawyer or attorney is comfortable and fits your needs.

Take the time to interview several lawyers and attorneys.

Ask if they’ve successfully handled cases like yours. Familiarize yourself with the size of the law firm, so that you can be sure enough resources will be available to the needs of your case.

The Key Takeaway

Whether you realize it or not, the legal environment is a world unto itself. If you’ve got a legal matter on your hands, take advantage of the knowledge and skills of a professional who specializes in the subject matter.