What Is the Difference Between a Lawyer and an Attorney?

If you’ve been hurt in a car accident, on the job, or harmed by a defective consumer product, you probably sought legal advice afterward. Did you call a lawyer? An attorney? Aren’t these just two words for the same concept — a legal professional who represents you in court? 

Technically, there is a difference, but whether this difference matters depends on your state. 

What Is a Lawyer? 

A lawyer is someone who holds a Juris Doctor, the degree given to people who complete law school. Lawyers undergo three years of study in all areas of the law, from criminal defense to torts. A lawyer can provide legal advice but cannot represent clients in court unless they are an attorney. 

What Is an Attorney? 

An attorney is someone who has passed a state bar exam and been admitted to that state’s bar association, which permits them to practice law. Attorneys have a law license, allowing them to legally represent clients in court. In states where this distinction matters, only an attorney can represent a client in court — not a lawyer. 

It’s important to note that an attorney does not necessarily have to go to law school to pass the bar exam and become licensed to practice law in the state. 

Licensing Requirements in Florida

Many states distinguish between a lawyer and an attorney, but Florida is one of the few that does not. As long as the legal advocate has passed the bar exam in Florida and graduated from an accredited law school, then they may petition to join the bar. 

In addition to passing the bar exam, however, there are other requirements for a practicing lawyer or attorney in Florida besides passing the bar exam. 

The Florida Bar has a fitness requirement — moral fitness, not physical fitness. Lawyers must demonstrate good moral character, diligence, responsibility, and trustworthiness. Bar applicants who do not have a good moral character or are known to be dishonest won’t be admitted. 

If an attorney has been admitted to the bar in another state, they may also be permitted to practice law in Florida if that state has a reciprocity agreement or if they pass the Florida bar exam. In other cases, a lawyer with a license in another state may represent clients in court by associating with a licensed Florida lawyer as co-counsel. 

Can Someone Practice Law Without a License in Florida? 

Individuals are permitted to represent themselves in court, called pro se representation. Aside from this, though, there are serious penalties for representing clients or practicing law without a license in the Sunshine State. 

Unlicensed practice of law can include performing some of the following actions: 

  • Making legal filings, like motions or lawsuits
  • Representing a client in court (one that isn’t themselves)
  • Giving legal advice

Penalties for unlicensed practice of law in Florida can be quite steep. Those who perform legal tasks only allowed for lawyers could face a sentence of up to five years in prison, five years of probation, and up to $5,000 in fines. 

However, there are other legal professionals that are not lawyers who can complete many legal tasks, like paralegals, law clerks, and legal secretaries. These individuals must adhere to the same code of ethics as a licensed attorney. 

But the lawyer they work for is ultimately responsible for their actions. As a result, they can be held accountable by the Florida Bar if one of their legal employees violates professional ethics or client confidentiality. 

Do You Need a Florida Personal Injury Lawyer?

If you’ve been injured through the negligence or reckless actions of another person, you may be entitled to compensation for the harm you suffered. Whether you choose an experienced personal injury lawyer or attorney, either legal professional can help advocate for you in Florida. 

Contact Our Personal Injury Law Firm – Lopez Accident Injury Attorneys

Contact a St. Petersburg personal injury lawyer at Lopez Accident Injury Attorneys and schedule a free case review today.

Lopez Accident Injury Attorneys

700 7th Ave N Suite B
St. Petersburg, FL 33701
(727) 933-0015