What Is the Difference Between Lawyer and Attorney?

In normal usage, there is no difference between a lawyer and an attorney. Some people use “lawyer” to refer to everyone who graduated from law school and “attorney” to refer to someone admitted to practice law. But most lawyers and judges do not recognize this distinction.

When you need to look for someone to represent you in a legal matter, you can hire anyone who holds themselves out as a lawyer or an attorney. Just beware that unscrupulous individuals may attempt to practice law without having a license.

Here is some information about what someone must do to become a lawyer or attorney.

Requirements to Practice Law in Florida

Like all states, Florida regulates who can practice law in the state. Lawyers act in a position of trust with their clients. Lawyers act on behalf of their clients in matters that affect the clients’ lives, liberties, properties, and financial interests. As a result, states carefully screen who can act as a lawyer.

Florida has three main requirements for admission to practice law:

Educational Requirements

A candidate must graduate with a law degree from a law school accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA). The ABA ensures that accredited law schools comply with its curriculum, faculty, and facility requirements.

Most law schools require students to earn an undergraduate degree before admission. This means most lawyers have spent at least seven years in higher education.

Character and Fitness Requirements

Candidates for admission to the bar must undergo a background check. Lawyers act on behalf of clients. They often hold money and other property on behalf of clients. They structure transactions for the client’s benefit. An unscrupulous lawyer could take advantage of clients or steal from clients.

Applicants must have a fairly clean criminal and disciplinary record. The Florida Board of Bar Examiners can reject any applicant with a criminal or disciplinary history that might call the candidate’s character into question.

Testing Requirements

Applicants for admission to practice law must pass an examination. The bar examination tests general areas of law every lawyer must know, including:

  • Property law
  • Contract law
  • Criminal law
  • U.S. and Florida Constitutional law
  • Commercial law
  • Civil procedure
  • Legal ethics
  • Tort law (such as personal injury, premises liability, and other negligence actions)

More than half of the candidates for admission will not pass this test. In July 2021, only 44% of applicants passed Florida’s bar exam.

Admission to Practice Law in Florida

After meeting all these requirements, the Florida Supreme Court admits the person to the practice of law. Under The Florida Bar rules, the person can then:

  • Advertise as a lawyer, attorney, or counselor-at-law
  • Provide legal services to clients
  • Represent clients in court and administrative hearings

The lawyer must abide by Florida’s ethical rules. If the lawyer violates the ethical rules, The Florida Bar can discipline the lawyer. Punishment for violating the rules can include suspension from the practice of law or disbarment.

Practicing Law in Florida

Lawyers perform many services, including:

  • Advising and counseling clients
  • Advocating for clients before tribunals
  • Negotiating agreements
  • Drafting legal documents

A car accident lawyer, for example, acts on behalf of clients to secure compensation. These clients have often suffered grievous injuries and need compensation to cover medical expenses incurred and income lost due to their injuries.

The lawyer evaluates the client’s case and negotiates with insurers to settle the client’s claims. If the lawyer cannot settle the claims, they file a lawsuit and present the client’s case to a jury. The lawyer advocates for the client’s interests to persuade the jury to award damages to the injured client.

Choosing a Qualified Lawyer or Attorney

When you choose a lawyer or attorney, you should visit The Florida Bar’s website or call its office to verify the person’s license to practice law. The Florida Bar can also tell you whether the lawyer has a disciplinary record.

You must have a trustworthy lawyer representing you in your case. An untrustworthy lawyer or, worse yet, someone practicing law without a license, can destroy your case.