A lawyer or attorney at law is an individual licensed by the state to advise clients in legal matters and represent them in courts of law and other legal agencies. Most countries today require professional law advisors in their juridical systems. Lawyers have many names in different countries -- including "advocate," "attorney," "barrister," "counselor," "civil law notary", and "solicitor" -- and many of these names indicate specific classes or ranks of jurists.

Increasingly, in the United States in particular, lawyers have taken over functions that used to be (and in some countries, still are) performed by other professionals, such as the civil law notary or even by non-professionals.

Colloquially, in the United States, lawyers are called attorneys. In fact, almost anyone can be an attorney; strictly speaking, an attorney is similar to an agent, a person who has been formally empowered by someone else (a "principal") to act on behalf of the principal. Lawyers are "attorneys at law," authorised to plead cases on behalf of their clients.

Table of contents
1 Lawyers in the U.S.
2 Lawyers in the U.K. and common law countries
3 See also
4 External links

Lawyers in the U.S.

The United States Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics (1) estimates that in 2001, there were 490,000 practicing lawyers in the U.S.

It is frequently said that there are more lawyers per capita in the US than in any other country in the world. This statistic is misleading because it is difficult to compare numbers of law professionals between different legal systems because the roles of these professionals vary and some of the work that is done in the United States by a lawyer is performed by several different types of professionals in other countries.

Bar admission

In order for a person to be admitted to the bar for the first time, all U.S. jurisdictions require that the applicant take and pass a bar examination, usually consisting of the following:
  • complicated essay questions concerning that jurisdiction's law;
  • the Multistate Bar Examination, a standardized, nationwide examination containing generalized questions about common law; and
  • some sort of test demonstrating the applicant's knowledge of the ethical rules governing lawyers, often the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination.

In addition, all but a handful of jurisdictions require that the applicant have earned a law degree from an A.B.A-accredited law school.

Some jurisdictions permit the admission of an applicant who is already admitted to the bar of another state. This sort of admission may or may not be dependent on whether the jurisdiction to which the applicant is already admitted offers reciprocity to other jurisdictions, i.e., whether the jurisdiction itself allows attorneys in without admission. Some states zealously pride themselves on the exclusivity of their admissions process and therefore do not offer reciprocity of any kind.

Other jurisdictions allow admission to presently-practicing lawyers upon the successful completion of a limited examination on procedure and/or ethics.

U.S. Federal District Courts (Federal trial courts) condition their admissions policies on those of the state in which they are located. Generally speaking, a Federal District Court will admit an lawyer to practice provided that he or she is already admitted to practice in that state. Thus, for example, a lawyer admitted in California may automatically be admitted to the bar of a Federal court in California, but could likely not automatically gain admission to a Federal court in neighboring Oregon.

Other U.S. Federal courts, such as the U.S. Supreme Court, the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, or the U.S. Court of Veterans Appeals have open admissions policies, allowing bar admission to attorneys licensed anywhere in the country.

Legal Education

The degree awarded by U.S. law schools to graduates is the degree of Juris Doctor (occasionally mis-Anglicized to Juris Doctorate). However, the name of the degree is misleading; it is not technically a doctoral degree as it is the educational equivalent of a master's degree since it is awarded after three (or four, depending on whether the student takes part-time classes) years of study and without the requirement of a thesis or dissertation and defense thereof.

Graduate law degrees may also be obtained. A Master of Laws, or LL.M., is awarded after completion of a specialized program of study -- often in esoteric subjects such as taxation or trial advocacy.

The ultimate law degree obtainable is the S.J.D., or Scientum Juris Doctor, literally "doctor of juridical science". This should not be confused with the "doctor of laws" degree, or LL.D., which is usually awarded for honorary purposes.

What constitutes the practice of law?

A person who has a Juris Doctor but is not admitted to any bar is not a lawyer. However, federal courts often allow law students to act as "certified student attorneys" after the satisfactory completion of their first year of law school and the completion of particular second- and third-year courses such as Evidence. Otherwise, engaging in the kind of work customarily done by lawyers, without a valid, current license to do so, is the "unauthorized practice of law." In some jurisdictions, the definition of the practice of law is quite strict; persons have been successfully prosecuted for publishing do-it-yourself will forms and for representing special-education children in federal proceedings as specifically allowed by federal law.

For instance, in some states, real estate closings may only be performed by lawyers, even though the lawyer's role in a closing imostly involves notarization of documents and disbursement of settlement funds through an escrow account.

Paradoxically, some jurisdictions will allow a non-lawyer to sit as a judge, usually in lower courts or in hearings by governmental agencies, even though a non-lawyer may not practice before these same courts.

Lawyers in the U.K. and common law countries

In Great Britain, Australia, and several other common law countries, there are generally two kinds of lawyers - solicitors and barristers. Solicitors may practice before lower courts, but their main (and traditionally only) work is outsides the courts, in such areas as legal advice, property conveyancing, wills and estates.

Barristers may practice before lower, superior and high courts. Traditionally (and still for major cases) both a solicitor (for advice) and a barrister (for representation) were required for legal representation before the courts.

Certain common law jurisdictions - for example, Malaysia, Singapore, Sweden, Canada, and certain states in Australia have a fused legal profession, whereby lawyers practice as both barristers and solicitors.

See also

External links

Disambiguation: There is also a Lawyer (fish)