What is the Difference Between a Lawyer and Attorney?

If you search for a personal injury attorney online, you may see results for attorneys and lawyers. That is because most people use the terms lawyer and attorney interchangeably. However, there is a difference in the definition of lawyer and attorney.

A lawyer is an individual who has earned a law degree or Juris Doctor (JD) from a law school. The person is educated in the law, but is not licensed to practice law in Pennsylvania or another state.

An attorney is an individual who has a law degree and has been admitted to practice law in one or more states. The person has passed the bar examination or been admitted through a non-bar exam application. An attorney can give legal advice and represent clients in court.

Attorneys are advocates for their clients. The attorney’s duty is to protect the client’s best interest. In some cases, that might include telling a client something the client is not happy to hear, but needs to hear to protect the client’s best interest.

Licensing Requirements for Attorneys in Pennsylvania

Most attorneys are admitted to practice law in Pennsylvania by completing the bar examination. Pennsylvania also has a character and fitness requirement. Attorneys who display a deficiency in diligence, honesty, reliability, or trustworthiness may not be admitted to the bar.

Lawyers who want to take the bar examination must have a degree from an accredited law school. The Bar Admission Rules define “accredited law school” as a school approved by the American Bar Association.

Most bar examinations include a Multistate Bar Exam (MBE) that covers various topics such as civil procedure, constitutional law, evidence, criminal procedure, contracts, torts, and real property. The Pennsylvania Bar Examination has an essay portion that covers all of the MBE topics. The essay portion also covers wills, trusts, estates, family law, employment discrimination, and other topics.

Some lawyers may be admitted to practice in Pennsylvania without taking the bar examination. For example, an attorney licensed to practice law in a state that has a reciprocity agreement with Pennsylvania may be admitted to the bar without taking the bar examination. The attorney must meet certain requirements, such as providing a certificate of good standing from the state the attorney is admitted to practice and has obtained a degree from an accredited law school.

Lawyers may also be admitted to practice under special circumstances by filing a motion with the court or through other non-bar exam applications. Lawyers who are admitted to practice in another state, who are working with an attorney admitted to practice in Pennsylvania, or who are working as in-house counsel may want to research options for admission without taking the bar exam.

What If You Practice Law Without a License?

Individuals who practice law without a license are subject to criminal charges. A charge for the unauthorized practice of law in Pennsylvania is a misdemeanor of the third degree. Second and subsequent offenses constitute a misdemeanor of the first degree.

How to Choose the Right Attorney for Your Case

When you search for an attorney to represent you regarding an injury claim, you want an attorney who has experience handling cases like your case. Just because an attorney is licensed to practice in Pennsylvania doesn’t mean they can successfully represent you in any type of injury case.

For instance, if you were injured at work, you want to hire an attorney who handles workers’ compensation claims. However, if your injury is from a commercial truck accident, you want to search for an experienced truck accident lawyer.

Most attorneys will offer a free initial consultation. You should take advantage of this free consultation to evaluate whether the attorney is a good fit for you and your needs.

Some of the questions you want to ask an attorney during your consultation include:

  • How much experience do you have handling cases like my case?
  • What is your success rate?
  • How often do you take cases to trial versus settling cases?
  • Who can I expect to work with during my case? Will you handle my case or will a paralegal handle my case?
  • Do you accept cases on a contingency fee basis? What costs am I expected to pay in addition to attorneys’ fees?
  • How long have you been practicing law?
  • What resources and tools do your law firm have to help me with my injury claim?

Searching for an attorney can be frustrating. You may need to meet with more than one attorney to find the one that is right for you. You want to feel comfortable with the attorney.

If you feel as if your questions are not answered fully or the attorney is rushing through the consultation, you may want to continue searching for a personal injury attorney. Since most attorneys offer free consultations, you can meet with several attorneys before deciding which law firm meets your needs and expectations.


Zavodnick, Zavodnick & Lasky, LLC
123 S Broad St #1220
Philadelphia, PA 19109
(215) 875-7030