Perhaps no other profession has as many variations in titles than that of lawyer. The titles attorney, lawyer, barrister and Esquire are frequently used, sometimes interchangeably, in the field of law. However, by definition, each has a unique meaning.
Generally speaking, an attorney, or attorney-at-law, is a person who is a member of the legal profession. An attorney is qualified and licensed to represent a client in court. By most definitions, an attorney may act on the client’s behalf and plead or defend a case in legal proceedings. The English word attorney has French origins, where it meant “a person acting for another as an agent or deputy.”
A lawyer, by definition, is someone who is trained in the field of law and provides advice and aid on legal matters. Because a lawyer also conducts suits in court proceedings and represents clients in various legal instances, the term has expanded to overlap the definition of attorney. In the U.S., attorney and lawyer are normally considered synonyms. The term lawyer has Middle English roots.
In the U.K, even more job titles are used in the field of law; there are barristers and solicitors, among others. A barrister generally performs trial work, especially in the higher courts, and does not deal directly with clients. A solicitor, on the other hand, speaks with clients, prepares documents and may appear as an advocate in a lower court.
Finally, Esquire is a title sometimes used by attorneys. When used, it follows the attorney’s full name, and is most often an abbreviation, Esq. It is an honorary title that has little meaning in the U.S. today and is even somewhat controversial. The term Esquire has English roots, where it was considered an honorary title and originally referred only to males. It is now used as a professional title, similar to the use of Dr. or Ph.D.
In the U.S., each state administers the exam required to license attorneys. The American Bar Association is a voluntary, professional organization to which many attorneys belong.