In the United States, there is no difference between an attorney and a lawyer. The US has a united legal profession, meaning that there is no distinction between lawyers who try cases in court and those that do not. In most other countries, there is a clear difference between these two roles.
In Canada, England and Australia, the role of lawyer and attorney are quite different. These jurisdictions operate under common law. Within these countries, there are additional legal roles that do not exist in the US.
Attorney is a term not commonly used in Canada, England or Australia to describe people working in the legal profession. All three countries use the terms barrister or solicitor instead of attorney. They have slightly different roles in each of these countries.
In Canada, a lawyer is someone who is a civil law notary in Quebec or has been called to the bar. A common law lawyer in Canada is also known as a barrister or solicitor. Under Canadian law, there are no restrictions on the type of law that can be done by a lawyer.
In Australia, a lawyer is someone who is educated as a lawyer and is employed in this role. The term does not include people who are trained but not working as a lawyer. Lawyers can work in both private practice and in corporate law.
In England, the term lawyer applies to a range of positions that require legal training. These include barristers, legal executives, licensed conveyances, judges, court clerks, legal executives and people who draft laws. The level of legal education required for these positions is the key item required to use the title of "lawyer."
The term attorney is used interchangeably with lawyer in media in the US adding to the general confusion among the public. Although the public image of a lawyer is focused on trial work, most legal work involves research, filing motions and drafting documents. Trial work forms a very small part of the work done by lawyers and attorneys in the US.
Corporate, or transactional, attorneys or lawyers specialize in non-trial work. They spend their time drafting documents, working in litigation, writing opinions and providing dispute resolution guidance. They are also responsible for providing taxation guidelines and advice on business proposals.
Most states require lawyers to have completed a degree in professional law from an accredited university, in addition to passing the bar or licensing exam. In the state of Washington, you can become a lawyer by successfully completing the Rule Six Law Clerk program and working the required hours. The candidate is then eligible to take the bar exam and, upon successful completion, is a lawyer.