'Lawyer' vs 'Attorney': What's the Difference?

By Amy Gilmore, updated on October 28, 2023

Are you looking for an explanation of the difference between 'lawyer' vs. 'attorney?' If so, you aren't alone, but I can help.

Here is the short answer: 

  • A 'lawyer' is someone who is professionally trained, licensed, and practices law. 
  • An 'attorney' is someone who is appointed to act on another person's behalf. 
  • 'Lawyers' are often 'attorneys'; however, 'attorneys' do not have to be licensed 'lawyers.' 

Please keep reading to learn more about the meanings of these terms and how to use them.

What is the Difference Between 'Lawyer' vs. 'Attorney?'

Many people use the terms 'lawyer' and 'attorney' simultaneously. However, they actually have different meanings.

  • A 'lawyer' is someone who is trained and licensed to practice law.
  • An 'attorney' is someone with the authority to act on behalf of another individual.

However, an 'attorney' does not necessarily have to be a 'lawyer.'

For example, if you have someone sign for you, you give them the authority by signing a Power of Attorney. And the person who acts on your behalf is your Attorney-in-Fact.

Definition of 'Lawyer': What Does 'Lawyer' Mean?

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines 'lawyer' as a noun that means:

  • One who conducts lawsuits and advises clients on legal rights and obligations

Synonyms and Similar Words to 'Lawyer'

  • Attorney
  • Counsel
  • Advocate
  • Jurist
  • Prosecutor
  • Solicitor
  • Counselor
  • Counsellor
  • Legislator
  • Criminal lawyer
  • Public defender
  • Defense attorney
  • Shyster

Definition of 'Attorney': What Does 'Attorney' Mean?

The same source defines 'attorney' as a noun that means:

  • Someone who does business or acts on another person's behalf

It can also mean:

  • Lawyer

Synonyms and Similar Words to 'Attorney'

  • Agent
  • Attorney-at-Law
  • Attorney-in-Fact
  • Representative
  • Manager
  • Proxy
  • Procurator
  • Deputy
  • Broker
  • Speaker
  • Substitute
  • Mediator
  • Rep
  • Delegate
  • Surrogate
  • Operative
  • Backup

Pronunciation: How to Pronounce 'Lawyer' vs. 'Attorney'

If you plan to use these terms in verbal communications, it is important to learn their pronunciations. Plus, learning how to pronounce these words will likely help you remember how to spell them.

So, here is a pronunciation guide you can use for 'lawyer' and 'attorney.'

  • Use this phonetic spelling to pronounce 'lawyer':

loi-er or loy-er

  • Use this phonetic spelling to pronounce 'attorney':


When and How to Use 'Lawyer' vs. 'Attorney'

You learned the difference between 'lawyer' vs. 'attorney,' but knowing when to use each term can be more confusing.

So, here are some tips:

  • Use 'lawyer' as a noun for a person who practices law.

For example, you could say:

You should consider hiring a lawyer if you are in legal trouble. 

  • Use 'lawyer' for someone who graduated from law school and passed the Bar exam.

So, you might say:

He graduated from law school in 2005, but he did not become a lawyer until he passed the Bar exam in 2015. 

  • Use 'attorney' to refer to a lawyer who represents you in business matters.

As an example, you could say:

My attorney will be sending you the business agreement in the next week. 

  • Use 'Attorney-in-Fact' for someone who acts on your behalf.

So, I might say:

I will have my Attorney-in-Fact sign the documents if I cannot

  • Use 'attorney' for a lawyer that represents you or someone else legally.

For example, you can say:

I am going to ask my attorney to request a trial by a judge. 

Sample Sentences Using 'Lawyer' vs. 'Attorney'

Next, read these sample sentences using 'lawyer' vs. 'attorney.' They will help you remember the meanings of these terms and learn different ways to use them.


  • You need a good lawyer if you are facing criminal charges.
  • The lawyer prepared the lawsuit for his clients, but they hoped the plaintiff would settle outside of court.
  • If you plan to take your case to trial, you need an experienced lawyer.
  • The prosecuting lawyer was determined to get a conviction against the violent criminal that would put him behind bars.
  • The lawyer was untrustworthy. He acted like he had our best interest in mind, but he was a shyster.
  • A good lawyer works hard for their clients and gives them straightforward information on their legal situation.
  • Lawyers are supposed to follow a moral code when it comes to client confidentiality.


  • The attorney for our company handles all of the legal matters for our company.
  • You better believe that companies like BlackRock and Blackstone have a team of attorneys representing them.
  • We must have a reputable attorney representing us if we want to limit our liability in this dangerous business.
  • If you need an attorney who will fight for your freedom, I can call my cousin, Vinnie. They call him the Law Hawk.
  • I am going to sign the documents as my mother's Attorney-in-Fact.
  • The judge asked the attorneys and their clients to approach the bench so he could address them privately about the judgment.


  • Until you pass the Bar exam, you cannot legally call yourself a lawyer or attorney.
  • If you represent yourself as an attorney without the correct credentials, you could get in trouble for falsely impersonating a lawyer.
  • You should consult with your lawyer before you give anyone the power to act as your attorney in personal, business, or legal matters.
  • I am sorry, I cannot discuss the case with you. You must have your lawyer contact our attorney.

Recap: 'Lawyer' vs. 'Attorney'

We went over a lot of information. So, here is a recap of what you learned about the difference between 'lawyer' vs. 'attorney': 

  • A 'lawyer' is someone who graduated from law school and passed the bar exam. 
  • An 'attorney' is someone who represents another person in legal and business transactions. 
  • An 'attorney' can be someone you personally appoint to act on your behalf. 
  • Many 'lawyers' act as 'attorneys' for their clients by representing them in criminal or civil cases. 

These terms confuse people learning English as a second language and experienced writers. So, if you ever need a reminder of the meanings of these terms, you can always return to this lesson for a quick review of this lesson.

You can also learn about other terms like these in the confusing words section here. There are hundreds of guides like this one, and each explains the difference between the terms it covers and gives definitions, pronunciations, grammar rules, and usage tips.

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Written By:
Amy Gilmore
Amy Gilmore is one of the lead freelance writers for WritingTips.org. She has been a professional writer and editor for the past eight years. She developed a love of language arts and literature in school and decided to become a professional freelance writer after a demanding career in real estate. Amy is constantly learning to become a better writer and loves sharing tips with other writers who want to do the same.

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