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  • Writer's pictureHugo Crema

Lawyer, barrister and attorney: what’s the difference?

Lawyer, barrister and attorney: what’s the difference?



Lawyers play a crucial role in our society, providing legal advice and representation to individuals, businesses, and organizations in a wide range of legal matters. A lawyer’s work has gained in complexity over the years, due to globalization, technology, and academic developments. Legal issues are more complex, multicultural and yet require more specialized knowledge. Today’s lawyers must have a broad understanding of international law and cultural differences in order to effectively represent their clients.


In this blog post, we will explore different words used to refer to lawyers and explain the differences between them.


Before the list, bear in mind that in the jurisdictions of England and Wales and in Northern Ireland, some Australian states, Hong Kong, South Africa (where they are called attorneys) and the Republic of Ireland, the legal profession is split between solicitors and barristers (called advocates in some countries, for example Scotland), and a lawyer will usually only hold one of the two titles. In this case, solicitor is a lawyer working on general matters while barristers work inside a courtroom or tribunal.


On the other hand, in Canada, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore and the remaining Australian states and territories, the legal profession is now for practical purposes "fused", allowing lawyers to hold the title of "barrister and solicitor" and practise as both. Some legal graduates will start off as one and then also qualify as the other. In the United States, the barrister–solicitor distinction does not exist at all.


Understand the difference between these 5 names used to refer to legal professions.

  1. Attorney: a lawyer who has been admitted to the bar and is authorized to represent clients in legal proceedings. An attorney at law (or attorney-at-law) in the United States is a practitioner in a court of law who is legally qualified to prosecute and defend actions in court on the retainer of clients. They may also be referred to as counselor (or counsellor-at-law) and lawyer. In practice, for American jurisdictions, lawyer and attorney are very similar terms. In other jurisdictions, such as South Africa, attorney is the preferred term for general legal professionals. Attorney can also describe a person who has power of attorney.

  2. Barrister: In the UK, a barrister is a lawyer who specializes in high-level courtroom advocacy and litigation. Their tasks include taking cases in superior courts and tribunals, drafting legal pleadings, researching law and giving expert legal opinions. In some jurisdictions (Australia, Hong Kong, Ireland, New Zealand, an Scotland, for example), barristers are also known as "counsel" or "advocates."

  3. In-house counsel: a lawyer who is employed by a specific company or organization to provide legal advice and representation to that organization. In-house counsel is responsible for handling the legal affairs of the organization they work for and may specialize in areas such as corporate law, labor law, or intellectual property law. In-house counsel is often considered a part of the management team of the organization and may work closely with other members of the organization to ensure compliance with legal requirements and to provide legal guidance on business decisions.

  4. Lawyer: is a general term for a professional who is trained qualified to practice law in a particular jurisdiction. Lawyers can work in private law firms, government agencies, or non-profit organizations, and can specialize in a wide range of legal areas, such as criminal law, family law, or business law.

  5. Solicitor: this term derives from the English legal system and describes a lawyer who specializes in providing legal advice and assistance to clients on a wide range of legal issues, such as property law, family law, and business law. In the past, while barristers did not deal with the public directly, solicitors handled county courts and day-to-day matters. This rigid separation no longer applies.

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