In the U.S., they’re collectively called everything from “attorney” to “lawyer” to “counselor.” Are these terms truly equivalent, or has the identity of one been mistaken for another?
What exactly is a “Licensed BAR Attorney?” A credential accompanies every legal paper produced by attorneys – along with a State BAR Certification number. The credential is issued by the boards of law examiners, the applicant having acquired a minimum competency in law. In most cases, the board is an independent, self-financing, separately incorporated group of law professionals, administered by the state bar association, a branch of the American Bar Association, functioning in an advisory capacity to the supreme court of each of the states. Simply stated, they are an advisory board of recommendation to the court. The accreditation number is issued by the state bar association, a professional dues paying union.
As we are about to show you, an ‘attorney’ is not a ‘lawyer,’ yet the average American improperly interchanges these words as if they represent the same occupation, and the average American attorney unduly accepts the honor to be called “lawyer” when he is not.
In order to discern the difference, and where we stand within the current court system, it’s necessary to examine the British origins of our U.S. courts and the terminology that has been established from the beginning. It’s important to understand the proper lawful definitions for the various titles we now give these court related occupations.
The legal profession in the U.S. is directly derived from the British system. Even the word “bar” is of British origin:
BAR — A particular portion of a court room. Named from the space enclosed by two bars or rails, one of which separated the judge’s bench from the rest of the room; the other shut off both the bench and the area for lawyers engaged in trials from the space allotted to suitors, witnesses, and others. Such persons as appeared as speakers (advocates, or counsel) before the court, were said to be “called to the bar”, that is, privileged so to appear, speak and otherwise serve in the presence of the judges as “barristers.” The corresponding phrase in the United States is “admitted to the bar”. – A Dictionary of Law (1893).
From the definition of ‘BAR,’ the title and occupation of a “barrister” is derived:
BARRISTER — English law. A counselor admitted to plead at the bar. 2. Ouster barrister, is one who pleads ouster or without the bar. 3. Inner barrister, a sergeant or king’s counsel who pleads within the bar. 4. Vacation barrister, a counselor newly called to the bar, who is to attend for several long vacations the exercise of the house. 5. Barristers are called apprentices, apprentitii ad legem, being looked upon as learners, and not qualified until they obtain the degree of sergeant. — Edmund Plowden, the author of the Commentaries, a volume of elaborate reports in the reigns of Edward VI., Mary, Philip and Mary, and Elizabeth, describes himself as an apprentice of the common law. — A Law Dictionary by John Bouvier (Revised Sixth Edition, 1856).
BARRISTER, n. [from BAR.] A counselor, learned in the laws, qualified and admitted to pleas at the bar, and to take upon him the defense of clients; answering to the advocate or licentiate of other countries. Anciently, barristers were called, in England, apprentices of the law. Outer barristers are pleaders without the bar, to distinguish them from inner barristers, benchers or readers, who have been sometime admitted to pleas within the bar, as the king’s counsel are. — Webster’s 1828 Dictionary.
Overall, a barrister is one who has the privilege to plead at the courtroom bar separating the judicial from the non-judicial spectators. Currently, in U.S. courts, the inner bar between the bench (judge) and the outer bar no longer exists, and the outer bar separates the attorneys (not lawyers) from the spectator’s gallery. This will be explained more as you read further. As with the word ‘BAR,’ each commonly used word describing the various court officers is derived directly from root words:
1). From the word “solicit” is derived the name and occupation of a ‘solicitor’; one who solicits or petitions an action in a court.
SOLICIT, v.t. [Latin – solicito] 1. To ask with some degree of earnestness; to make petition to; to apply to for obtaining something. This word implies earnestness in seeking … 2. To ask for with some degree of earnestness; to seek by petition; as, to solicit an office; to solicit a favor. — Webster’s 1828 Dictionary.
ATTORN v. ME. [Origin French. atorner, aturner >assign, appoint, f. a-torner turn v.] 1. v.t.Turn; change, transform; deck out. 2. v.tTurn over (goods, service, allegiance, etc.) to another; transfer, assign. 3. >v.i. Transfer one’s tenancy, or (arch.) homage or allegiance, to another; formally acknowledge such transfer. attorn tenant (to) Law formally transfer one’s tenancy to), make legal acknowledgement of tenancy ( to a new landlord) — Oxford English Dictionary 1999.
ATTORN, v.i. [Latin ad and torno.] In the feudal law, to turn, or transfer homage and service from one lord to another. This is the act of feudatories, vassels or tenants, upon the alienation of the estate. — Webster’s 1828 Dictionary.
ATTORNMENT, n. The act of a feudatory, vassal or tenant, by which he consents, upon the alienation of an estate, to receive a new lord or superior, and transfers to him his homage and service. — Webster’s 1828 Dictionary.
ATTORNMENT n. the transference of bailor status, tenancy, or (arch.) allegiance, service, etc., to another; formal acknowledgement of such transfer: lme. — Oxford English Dictionary 1999.
3). From the word advocate comes the meaning of the occupation by the same name; one who pleads or defends by argument in a court.
ADVOCATE v.t. [Latin advocatus, from advoco, to call for, to plead for; of ad and voco, to call. See Vocal.] To plead in favor of; to defend by argument, before a tribunal; to support or vindicate. — Webster’s 1828 Dictionary.
4). From the word “counsel” is derived the name and occupation of a ‘counselor’ or ‘lawyer’; one who is learned in the law to give advice in a court of law;
COUNSEL, v.t. [Latin. to consult; to ask, to assail.] 1. To give advice or deliberate opinion to another for the government of his conduct; to advise. – Webster’s 1828 Dictionary.
LAWYER. A counselor; one learned in the law. — A Law Dictionary by John Bouvier (Revised Sixth Edition, 1856).