A lawyer is a person who practices law, as a barrister, attorney, counselor or solicitor. Working as a lawyer involves the practical application of abstract legal theories and knowledge to solve specific individualized problems, or to advance the interests of those who hire lawyers to perform legal services.
In practice, legal jurisdictions exercise their right to determine who is recognized as being a lawyer. As a result, the meaning of the term “lawyer” may vary from place to place.
- In Australia, the word “lawyer” is used to refer to both barristers and solicitors (whether in private practice or practicing as corporate in-house counsel).
- In Canada, the word “lawyer” only refers to individuals who have been called to the bar or, in Quebec, have qualified as civil law notaries. Common law lawyers in Canada are formally and properly called “barristers and solicitors”, but should not be referred to as “attorneys”, since that term has a different meaning in Canadian usage. However, in Quebec, civil law advocates (or avocats in French) often call themselves “attorney” and sometimes “barrister and solicitor” in English.
- In England and Wales, “lawyer” is used to refer to persons who provide reserved and unreserved legal activities and includes practitioners such as barristers,attorneys, solicitors, registered foreign lawyers, patent attorneys, trade mark attorneys, licensed conveyancers, public notaries, commissioners for oaths, immigration advisers and claims management services. The Legal Services Act 2007 defines the “legal activities” that may only be performed by a person who is entitled to do so pursuant to the Act. ‘Lawyer’ is not a protected title.
- In South Asia, the term “lawyer” is often colloquially used, but the official term is “advocate” as prescribed under the Advocates Act, 1961.
- In Scotland, the word “lawyer” refers to a more specific group of legally trained people. It specifically includes advocates and solicitors. In a generic sense, it may also include judges and law-trained support staff.
- In the United States, the term generally refers to attorneys who may practice law. It is never used to refer to patent agents or paralegals. In fact, there are regulatory restrictions on non-lawyers like paralegals practicing law.
- Other nations tend to have comparable terms for the analogous concept.
Legal advice is the application of abstract principles of law to the concrete facts of the client’s case in order to advise the client about what they should do next. In many countries, only a properly licensed lawyer may provide legal advice to clients for good consideration, even if no lawsuit is contemplated or is in progress. Therefore, even conveyancers and corporate in-house counsel must first get a license to practice, though they may actually spend very little of their careers in court. Failure to obey such a rule is the crime of unauthorized practice of law.
In other countries, jurists who hold law degrees are allowed to provide legal advice to individuals or to corporations, and it is irrelevant if they lack a license and cannot appear in court. Some countries go further; in England and Wales, there is no general prohibition on the giving of legal advice. Sometimes civil law notaries are allowed to give legal advice, as in Belgium. In many countries, non-jurist accountants may provide what is technically legal advice in tax and accounting matters.
Attorney at law or attorney-at-law, usually abbreviated in everyday speech to attorney, is the preferred term for a practising lawyer in certain jurisdictions, including South Africa (for certain lawyers), Sri Lanka, and the United States. In Canada, it is used only in Quebec. The term has its roots in the verb to attorn, meaning to transfer one’s rights and obligations to another.