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What's the Difference Between an Attorney and a Lawyer?





You’re thinking about getting a divorce. You know that the divorce process can be complicated, especially if your divorce is contested. So, you decide to reach to someone with experience and knowledge for help. You sit down and begin to type “San Diego divorce” and then stop. Should you be searching for a lawyer or an attorney? What’s the difference between the two, anyway? Here’s what you need to know.





A Lawyer Has Gone to Law School





Lawyers are individuals who have gone to law school and studied the law. They might hold a J.D. or a similar degree from a foreign legal education institution. However, lawyers, technically speaking, can’t practice the law.





Individuals who might call themselves lawyers include:





  • Politicians
  • Legal scholars
  • Law school professors
  • Lobbyists, and
  • Businessmen.




Why? Lawyers have not taken (or passed) the Bar Exam. The Bar Exam is a test administered by a state’s bar association. The Bar Exam tests law school graduates on the ins-and-outs of the American legal system and laws of their state. It’s a prerequisite to being allowed to legally practice the law.





An Attorney Is Licensed to Practice Law





Attorneys, on the other hand, have taken the bar exam, passed, and are licensed to practice law within a particular jurisdiction. Attorneys have the ability to represent clients and handle legal matters before a court. 





All Attorneys Are Lawyers, But Not All Lawyers Are Attorneys





In the United States, the terms “lawyer” and “attorney” are often used interchangeably. Sometimes attorneys will refer to themselves as lawyers, even though the terms technically mean different things. Here’s an important takeaway - all attorneys are lawyers, but not all lawyers are attorneys. 





So, what can you do when you’re searching for a legal expert to help with your divorce? How do you know if someone who is calling themselves a “divorce lawyer” is just a lawyer or a full-fledged practicing attorney-at-law? 





The easiest thing to do is to visit your state’s bar association website. While the terms lawyer and attorney might not make much a difference to you - the American Bar Association and state bar associations care. Their respective websites will only provide the names of attorneys - not lawyers - who are licensed to practice law in the state. 





Using a handy search feature, you can enter the name of a lawyer you’re possibly interested in meeting with to discuss your case. If they’re licensed to practice the law, their name will be in the state bar’s database. Along with their name, you can find out additional information about them, including how long they’ve been practicing, any disciplinary issues, as well as their legal areas of focus. 





Does It Matter If I Choose a Lawyer or an Attorney?





If you need help with a legitimate legal matter that will involve the courts - you want to make sure that you have a licensed attorney on your side. A lawyer can maybe provide some advice and maybe help guide your decisions, but that’s about it. Only an attorney can help you navigate the divorce process and take care of orders involving child custody, property division, child support, and alimony. Only an attorney can stand up on your behalf in court and fight for what’s in your best interest. 





However, don’t pass by someone who calls themselves a “divorce lawyer.” Since the terms are often used interchangeably, they might really be a licensed attorney. Do a quick search or just ask.


PUJA SACHDEV

puja@sachdevlegal.com
Puja A. Sachdev is a San Diego attorney and mediator who focuses on family law, child support, and divorce cases and is a Certified Family Law Specialist by the State Bar of California Board of Legal Specialization.

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