Reading this article , for my personal desire to brush up my English, I have become interested to know more details in English usage. Now, thee are 2 words which sounds similar in the article, Attorney and Lawyer.

This page says,

Who Are Lawyers? A lawyer is someone who is educated in the law. A person who has been educated in the law will always be addressed as a lawyer, even if he or she does not give legal advice to other people. In fact, a lawyer in the United States is simply anyone who has gone through law school.

Who Are Attorneys? Attorneys are also recognized as lawyers. Attorneys graduate from law school and they can also choose to practice law as a profession. However a potential attorney must pass the bar exam to be eligible to practice law within a specific jurisdiction. Apart from performing the basic functions of a lawyer, attorneys can also act as legal representatives for their clients.

So am I correct in understanding that people in the English zone call people who are engaged in legal matters as lawyers as a general term, , and call the attorneys aka lawyers who are prosecuting some specific lawsuit.

Please kindly correct my understanding if there is.

And I would like to also know the difference from the prosecutor and the above 2.

P.S It looks like this question went into HNQ. Unless Lambie, the answer, who is receiving a lot of requests, update her answer, I am sorry I can't improve my question anymore. ( P.S + I actually don't understand even in my own language what the real difference is between barrister and the solicitor (and others))

  • Something that hasn't been properly explained: in many US states, prosecutors are also called solicitors. You go to a court and you will see Solicitor's Office. Also Solicitor General is a pretty high ranking official in the DOJ and some state judiciaries. So you were right to ask about this confusing mess of synonymous words and to include prosecutor.
    – Eddie Kal
    Jun 4, 2020 at 16:20
  • @EddieKal Huh, thank you for your tip. Okay, so, first I am a Japanese, right? And we don't deem prosecutors same with solicitors, probably or I bet their "job" is different. Now, as I started dig into this ahm kind of jargon, I found out they and their titles were quite country dependent. What I wanted to know was the U.S distinction between the 2 in the question. Hm. Thank you:).
    – user17814
    Jun 4, 2020 at 16:29
  • If I am not mistaken, in Japan 検事 and 弁護士 are completely separate, and "defense (弁護)" is embedded in the word for lawyer in general (弁護士). That is interestingly different from American English legal jargon.
    – Eddie Kal
    Jun 4, 2020 at 17:12
  • @EddieKal Sort of so. Whilst 検事(prosecutor) can make an "offence", 弁護士(lawyer) cann both make an offense and defense. ....judicial system is always complex.
    – user17814
    Jun 4, 2020 at 19:08
  • I believe this is a good question but not suitable for ELL. In my opinion it could be better answered at law.stackexchange.com Therefore I will vote to close the question here. Sep 2, 2020 at 21:53

3 Answers 3


an attorney in AmE is the same as a lawyer.

In the UK, lawyers are barristers OR solicitors. Barristers argue cases in court. Solicitors do the preparatory legal work and handle other non-court matters.

The words attorney and lawyer are interchangeable in AmE. Prosecution has nothing to do with it. To be lawyer (attorney aka legal counsel), you have to take an exam. The Brits do not use the term attorney. They only say lawyer, when they do not specify barrister or solicitor. They too must take special courses and pass exams. In the US,it is much simpler in the sense that every state has a Bar exam which you must pass in order to practice law in that state. Some states recognize other states' exams.

A prosecutor is a lawyer who works for the state/government and defends its interests.

In the UK, they say Crown prosecutor, as the UK is a kingdom. In the US, we say prosecutor, which can be a district, state or Federal prosecutor. The court system is really complicated.

In both the UK and US, prosecutors are not "hired" except when they become civil servants or public servants and receive a salary.

Finally, prosecutors are also lawyers. You can't defend a government's interests in a court of law and not be a lawyers, just to be clear.

  • 1
    "Solicitors do the preparatory legal work and handle other non-court matters." It's not quite that simple. :-) Leaving aside how it's varied over time, here in the modern day solicitors regularly argue cases in lower courts. That's always been true to some degree or another, but it was markedly extended in 2007. You still need a barrister in a High Court matter, though. (But your solicitor may well be present in court working with the barrister.) Jun 4, 2020 at 8:55
  • I should also note that in the UK we have private prosecutions as well as Crown prosecutions. Unsurprisingly, the prosecutor in a private prosecution is "Private Prosecutor." :-) Jun 4, 2020 at 9:04
  • 2
    Even more complicated crown prosecutor is limited to England and Wales. In northern Ireland it is just prosecutor, whilst in Scotland the correct term is Procurator fiscal. Though all may be called prosecutor informally. And whilst the word attorney has fallen out of use, various offices of attorney general still exist, and the concept of power of attorney is a thing. Jun 4, 2020 at 9:23
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    Can I suggest you change 'defends' to 'prosecutes' in your Prosecutor explanation sentences? Also (given ELL), there should probably be a capital at the beginning of the post.
    – mcalex
    Jun 4, 2020 at 9:43
  • Additional note: Though I'm not a native English speaker, it seems to me that the two words are used in different context of a sentence. Americans would rather say 'I'm a/My profession is lawyer'; but 'my attorney' rather than 'my lawyer'.
    – paddotk
    Jun 4, 2020 at 14:36

A lawyer is an expert at the law. Lawyers in many systems must have university degrees in law.

An attorney is a lawyer who is representing a person in a court case. The attorney can be representing a plaintiff or a respondent in a civil case, or the attorney can be representing the prosecution or the defendant in a criminal case.

The details of what exams and what qualifications an attorney has to pass is then a local legal matter. These words have both the regular meanings, and a specific legal meaning, that differs from place to place. The legal meaning may in places that have different laws.

In general use, if you hire a lawyer to help you write a contract or to help you buy a house, that lawyer is not an attorney. But if you hire a lawyer to represent you in a court, that lawyer is your attorney.

A prosecutor is an attorney who represents the prosecution in the court. In the English system, the prosecutor represents the Queen. In the US system, the prosecutor represents "the People". The US system has a "District Attorney" who organises prosecutions in a district. In many European systems, the prosecutor oversees the investigation of the crime and plays a role similar to a high-ranking police officer in the UK system. As you see, these words depend a lot on where you are.

  • 1
    Your answer is wrong. In the US, an attorney and lawyer are the same exact thing. No difference at all.
    – Lambie
    Jun 3, 2020 at 22:27
  • Hmm.thank you for your quick answer. I think your explanation about the "prosecutor" is a bit difficult, since the prosecutors prosecute "on behalf of the U.S people", which means the "who hired" the attorney aka the prosecutor is not unknown??? (For example the convicted is the one who set the fire on many houses in the district)?
    – user17814
    Jun 3, 2020 at 22:32
  • The prosecuting attorney represents "The People" but they are actually paid by the government. The government (in the US often the state government) hires attorneys to represent "the people" in criminal prosecutions. It is pretty similar in Japan. The government hires lawyers to prosecute criminal cases. And the defendant (who isn't convicted yet and is assumed "not guilty") also hires a lawyer as their attorney, or has one appointed by the court if they can't afford to hire their own attorney.
    – James K
    Jun 3, 2020 at 22:38
  • In Japan, "prosecutor" ( paid by the government and the independent body ) is different from the U.S's sense "lawyer" ( there is no equivalent term for "attorney" ) who is always privately hired.
    – user17814
    Jun 3, 2020 at 22:48
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    And what about barrister or solisitor. These terms have specific meanings in specific legal systems. But the general and jargon meaning of "attorney" is "lawyer who represents someone"
    – James K
    Jun 3, 2020 at 23:01

According to this site in California, a lawyer is someone with with a juris degree (graduated law school and got a degree.) On the other hand, an attorney is one who passed the state bar and has been granted a license to practice law.

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