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How Are an Attorney and Lawyer Different?
As you may have noticed, the terms lawyer and attorney are often used interchangeably. This might seem confusing to you, and you may be wondering whether it is appropriate to use both labels to refer to the same type of legal professional.
Now, traditionally, an attorney is a person that has graduated law school, passed the bar exam, and is licensed. A lawyer would be someone that has graduated law school but has not been admitted to practice.
However, Florida does not make a distinction between these terms. This means that if you are getting a divorce, the title that the professional uses is not as important as whether or not he or she is licensed to practice law in the state.
Florida Attorney Requirements
With that in mind, a person must be a member of the Florida Bar Association in order to practice law in this state. Note that, once admitted, an attorney can provide a full range of legal services, including estate planning, divorce representation, and criminal defense.
Now, the Florida Bar has certain admission requirements that must be met before someone can be admitted. Specifically, the lawyer must:
Possess a degree from a law school accredited by the American Bar Association
Pass the state bar examination, and
Pass the professional responsibility examination.
It’s important to note that only attorneys licensed in Florida can offer legal services within this state. This is true regardless of whether the person uses the title of lawyer or attorney. Providing legal assistance without being admitted would be considered the unlicensed practice of law.
Examples of unlicensed practice of law include giving legal advice, making legal filings, and representing a client in court.
Out of State Attorneys and Lawyers
Now, each state has its own bar admission requirements. This means that it is possible for an attorney to be licensed in one or more states, but not in Florida. If the attorney wishes to practice in Florida, he or she will either need to meet the admission requirements or qualify for one of the exceptions.
Limited appearances: an attorney can request the court to grant permission to appear in court to represent a particular client
House counsel: if an attorney works for a business, he or she may be able to provide limited legal services in the state
Military spouses: may obtain authorization to practice in Florida for up to 5 years without taking the bar exam
Foreign legal consultants: an attorney licensed in another country is permitted to advise a client in Florida on the laws of the country where admitted
If you need legal assistance in the state, it’s important to check to see where your attorney is licensed.
Law Degree but Not Admitted
As mentioned, not all legal professionals that have graduated from law school have completed the admission requirements. These individuals are commonly referred to within the profession as “Juris Doctors” or “JDs.”
JDs may choose to pursue work outside of traditional legal practice. This might include consulting, government work, or teaching. But, remember, these lawyers are not permitted to practice law.
How to Find Out if Someone is a Lawyer or Attorney
If you would like to research whether or not a particular lawyer has been licensed in Florida, you may visit the Florida Bar Association website. Through the search tool, you can look up attorneys by name to see if they are currently licensed and in good standing with the Bar. The results will also include information about any disciplinary actions taken against the attorney in the last 10 years.
Other Legal Professionals
If you are involved in a legal matter, it is common to work with other legal professionals in addition to attorneys. These individuals may or may not have law degrees or be admitted to practice in Florida and include:
Paralegals: these are professionals not fully qualified to be attorneys. Most paralegals don’t attend law school or sit for the bar exam. A paralegal can’t provide legal advice, but he or she may help with things like paperwork and research.
Legal secretaries: are also not admitted attorneys, and typically do administrative work in a law office, such as scheduling meetings and making copies.
Law clerks: are often licensed attorneys that work for a particular judge.
Court clerks: perform administrative duties for the court, like maintaining records. These individuals are typically not licensed attorneys.
Arbitrators and mediators: assist in alternative ways of resolving disputes between people and businesses. These professionals can be attorneys, but do not need to be.