These terms often get used interchangeably, but do they really mean the same thing?

In reality, the two terms are in fact similar in most ways, but there are a few details that differentiate them. To fully understand the difference between a lawyer and an attorney, you must take into consideration the situations they are involved in and the types of services they provide.

Lawyers

The term “lawyer” is a more general term that merely refers to a person who gives legal advice or aid to clients and who conducts suits in court.

Typically, the term “lawyer” is used as a blanket term to describe the entire legal profession.

Attorneys

An attorney, more specifically, is a member of the legal profession whose job is to represent clients in court when pleading or to defend a case.

Therefore, all attorneys are, in fact, lawyers, but all lawyers are not necessarily attorneys. Lawyers who represent clients in court are attorneys and lawyers who are not qualified to represent clients in court are not attorneys. Also, a divorce attorney is almost always the same thing as a divorce lawyer.

To take the explanation one step further, any practicing legal professional in Canada can define themselves even more specifically as either a barrister, a solicitor, or both. Most legal professionals, however, choose to represent themselves using only one of the two terms.

While the difference between a lawyer and an attorney is minimal and situational, there is a difference between a barrister and a solicitor.

Barrister

Barristers specialize in court work. The primary role of a barrister is usually to act as advocates in legal hearings by pleading cases in front of the judge on behalf of their clients.

Although the barrister acts on behalf of the client, however, they typically do not have contact with the client – they receive their instructions (and often must be referred by) a solicitor.

Barristers are most often self-employed and work in what is known as a Chamber, which is typically shared amongst multiple barristers. In some cases, they can be employed by banks, corporations, or solicitor firms.

Solicitor

Solicitors, on the one hand, act as the middlemen between barristers and clients. They are the ones who go to meet with clients, provide legal advice, propose referrals, etc. They then relay this information to the barrister, who pleads it in front of the judge.

Additionally, a solicitor is the person to see if your legal needs are in regards to any type of transactional work. This could include house or business sales, preparation of wills, forming trusts, etc.

Solicitors can work in a variety of environments, such as commercial or non-commercial law firms, the government, private businesses, banks, or even corporations. Often, a solicitor has specialized in a specific area of law (Ie: family, property, financial, etc.).

To Recap

The main difference between a lawyer and an attorney is that lawyer is a general term for someone practicing law; an attorney is a term for someone who works explicitly as representatives of clients in court, pleading cases in front of a judge.

Regarding legal professionals, the real difference is between barristers and solicitors – barristers being the individuals who represent their clients in front of a judge and solicitors being the individuals who consult with clients, providing advice, referrals, and a variety of transactional work.