Attorney Vs Lawyer: Definition And Fundamental Differences

Updated 31 July 2023

There are many fulfilling and challenging career paths within the legal industry. Two common paths in this field are that of an attorney and a lawyer. Though they share some similarities, there are several differences between these two careers. In this article, we will discuss the differences between an attorney and a lawyer and provide information about additional legal professions you may be interested in pursuing.

Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organisation and a candidate's experience, academic background and location.

Attorney vs. lawyer

The major difference between the duties and responsibilities of a lawyer and an advocate is that a lawyer is usually less experienced and may not necessarily represent clients in court. Comparatively, advocates are highly experienced and capable of representing their clients in courts. A lawyer may research cases and give advice to clients on legal matters. Advocates have the additional qualification of passing the AIBE, and hence, lend their service to clients at every stage of a legal process.

Even though ‘lawyer' is a general term used to refer to a number of job roles in the legal sector, there are subtle differences between specific legal roles that a lawyer can perform. The key distinction between a lawyer and an advocate is the way they use their education. An attorney has taken and passed the bar exam, which means that they personally represent clients in courts and liaise with members of the judiciary. Lawyers who have not passed the bar exam can only assume an advisory role to their clients.

Related: Types Of Lawyer Careers: Descriptions, Skills and Salaries

What is an attorney?

The word attorney is not widely used in the country. It is usually used only to refer to the Attorney-General of India or to refer to a legal clause called the Power of Attorney. In our country, these professionals may be called advocates. An advocate is a law professional who can assist, defend or plead for another individual in a court of law, tribunal or in front of a counsellor. They are also required to pass the AIBE (All India Bar Examination). After passing the exam, they are eligible to represent clients in courts.

Related: How To Write An Attorney Cover Letter In 7 Steps (With Tips)

Advocates are generally much more experienced than lawyers. Because of their experience and advanced knowledge in legal matters, they may be involved in representing and advising clients. They try their best to bring about a favourable outcome for their clients. Additional duties of an attorney include interpreting laws, applying their knowledge of the law to meet the needs of their clients and keeping careful records that outline their interactions with clients, legal professionals and other invested parties.

Related: Legal Assistant Interview Questions (And Sample Answers)

What is a lawyer?

The title ‘lawyer' is more widely used, as compared to the title ‘attorney'. It refers to a person learned in law or licensed to practice law. It is an umbrella term which covers anybody who pursues or practices law. If a person has just completed their legal studies, they can also be called a lawyer. Many other titles like solicitor, barrister and attorneys come under the general term lawyer. All of these roles are considered to be specialists in their respective fields.

Lawyers have generally less experience as compared to advocates or solicitors. They may be yet to gain the necessary experience to specialise in specific areas of law. They can give legal advice to their clients, but may not be able to represent clients in court. A lawyer can advance into higher positions with experience, upon which their earning potential may also increase.

Related: How To Become a Lawyer: A Complete Guide With FAQs

What are the qualifications required to become a lawyer?

The basic qualification to become a lawyer is an LLB degree. LLB is a 3-year undergraduate program. Candidates who have cleared the 12th standard board exam with a minimum of 50% aggregate marks are eligible to pursue an undergraduate degree from a recognised university. Prominent colleges offering LLB degrees include the National Law School of India University, National Law University, Delhi University Faculty of Law and National University of Advanced Legal Studies.

There are a number of entrance exams for admission into colleges offering LLB courses. The most important entrance exams are CLAT (Common Law Admission Test), AILET (All India Law Entrance Test), LSAT (Law School Admission Test) and DUET (Delhi University Entrance Test). An LLB program covers subjects like criminal law, family law, cyber law and corporate law. Lawyers are needed in a wide variety of institutions in both government and private sector. Individuals, non-profit organisations, multinational companies, government agencies and judicial bodies hire lawyers for assistance with legal procedures and cases.

Specialisations for legal professionals

While attending law school or after graduating from one, most lawyers and attorneys choose to specialise in an area of the law. When practising, an individual in either role can provide legal advice and support in any specialisation they choose. Some of the popular specialisations include:

  • real estate law

  • family law

  • criminal law

  • intellectual property law

  • general law

  • corporate and business law

  • tax law

  • bankruptcy law

  • civil rights law

  • environmental law

  • immigration law

  • labour and employment law

  • personal injury law

Although law school provides a general overview of all the areas of the law, lawyers and attorneys go through additional training and education in their area of focus to gain more experience and develop a specific knowledge base. Attorneys typically consult with and provide their services to clients whose cases pertain to their chosen field of law.

Related: How To Become a Criminal Lawyer: A Complete Guide

Popular careers for lawyers

There are several career paths within law, for both lawyers and attorneys to pursue. For lawyers, some avenues include working legal consultancies and legal regulatory specialists. Lawyers can find employment in corporations, government agencies and non-profit organisations. Some may also choose to pursue a career as an educator. Chosen career paths are usually influenced by a professional's specialisation, location, level of experience and professional goals.

Here are some popular career for candidates who wish to practise law:

1. Legal associate

National average salary: ₹2,42,773 per year

Primary duties: Legal associate is an entry to mid-level job role in a law firm. They mostly specialise in a particular area of the law. They can work on cases for clients, conduct legal research and provide advice to other lawyers on legal matters. Legal associates may also have to prepare and review legal documents as part of their job.

2. Lecturer

National average salary: ₹2,95,748 per year

Primary duties: After studying the law, you can also take up teaching positions in universities and coaching academies. Higher level teaching jobs may require you to have a PhD in legal studies. Teaching in the field of law can be highly rewarding and very demanding. You may benefit from being well versed in many areas of the constitution and obscure laws in the country.

Related: How To Become a Lecturer: A Complete Guide

3. Litigation lawyer

National average salary: ₹3,57,506 per year

Primary duties: A litigation lawyer is a legal professional who makes frequent courtroom appearances on behalf of their clients. They may have in-depth knowledge and understanding of various courtroom procedures to represent their clients. They usually research legal problems and draft legal documents to present their case in front of a judge. Litigation lawyers are also responsible for interacting with and interviewing their clients in relation to court cases.

4. Legal officer

National average salary: ₹3,93,225 per year

Primary duties: Legal officers are responsible for handling legal affairs of an organisation. They may handle legal problems within the organisation as well as external disputes concerning the organisation. There are a variety of organisations which employ legal officers like corporations, small businesses, government institutions and consultancy firms.

5. Corporate lawyer

National average salary: ₹4,45,520 per year

Primary duties: A corporate lawyer is responsible for advising clients on their rights and responsibilities in the domain of business. They are mostly hired by businesses and corporations, and may represent them in court and provide advice regarding legal matters. Corporate lawyers ensure that business endeavours abide by rules and regulations of law. They also try to protect the financial interests of their clients in legal disputes.

Related: How To Become a Corporate Lawyer: A Complete Guide

6. Commercial lawyer

National average salary: ₹15,58,899 per year

Primary duties: Commercial lawyers are law professionals who specialise in business law. They work on drafting contracts, negotiating terms and reviewing agreements for companies and institutions. Commercial lawyers may work for a law firm and may represent multiple clients. They may also work independently for a firm and handle all of their legal matters. They may spend a good amount of time researching, creating and editing legal documents.


Explore more articles

  • How To Make Money From Home For Students (With 13 Jobs)
  • What Is An IT Support Specialist? A Complete Guide
  • 12 Signs An Interview Went Well And Ways To Recognise Them
  • What Does A Transcriber Do? (With Salary, Skills and FAQs)
  • What Are Research And Development Internships? (With Skills)
  • What Is A General Counsel? (With Job Duties And Skills)
  • How To Make A Career In Chemistry (With Jobs And Salaries)
  • 10 Important Social Media Analyst Responsibilities
  • A Quick Guide to Operations Management Responsibilities
  • What Are Tax Accountant Responsibilities? (With Skills)
  • What Is A Financial Consultant? (Tasks And Responsibilities)
  • 17 Satisfying Jobs (Plus Salaries And Responsibilities)