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Lawyers, Prosecutors, and Attorneys

What is the difference between a prosecutor, an attorney, and a lawyer?

By
Michael W. Flynn
January 12, 2008

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First, a disclaimer: Although I am an attorney, the legal information in this podcast is not intended to be a substitute for seeking personalized legal advice from an attorney licensed to practice in your jurisdiction. Further, I do not intend to create an attorney-client relationship with any listener.    

Today I will discuss some legal nomenclature.

Joley wrote:

I watch Law & Order quite frequently, and I was wondering if you could address a question of mine on your podcast. What is the difference between a prosecutor, an attorney, and a lawyer?

The short answer is that these are all names of people licensed to practice law in a given jurisdiction, but with different powers.    

First I will address the difference between a lawyer and an attorney. Practically, these two words mean the same thing, and can be used interchangeably. Both words refer to someone who is trained and licensed to give legal advice. 

But technically, there appear to be some differences. It seems that an attorney is someone who acts as your agent in court, while a lawyer is someone who has legal training.  

The word “attorney” has French origins, and once referred to “a person acting for another as an agent or deputy.” A person with the legal capacity to act on behalf of another is an “attorney-in-fact.” An attorney-in-fact does not need formal legal education and does not need to be licensed. So, you can designate your spouse as your attorney-in-fact to make health care decisions about you if you are incapacitated, even though your spouse has never set foot in a law school. But, many states refer to those people who are licensed to practice law as “attorneys” or “attorneys-at-law.”

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