A lawyer is a professional who is qualified to offer advice about the law or represent someone in legal matters. A lawyer can also be called an attorney, a solicitor, a counselor, a barrister, or — pejoratively — an ambulance chaser.
A lawyer can handle all sorts of legal matters from drafting wills to patent claims to defending people against criminal charges. Qualified lawyers have to attend law school and pass a bar exam in order to practice law. Lawyer, of course, means one who practices the law. “Law” itself comes from the Old Norse root word lag, which means something laid down or fixed.
A lawyer is a person who practices law. The role of a lawyer varies greatly across different legal jurisdictions. A lawyer can be classified as an advocate, attorney, barrister, canon lawyer, civil law notary, counsel, counselor, solicitor, legal executive, or public servant — with each role having different functions and privileges. Working as a lawyer generally involves the practical application of abstract legal theories and knowledge to solve specific problems. Some lawyers also work primarily in advancing the interests of the law and legal profession.
Different legal jurisdictions have different requirements in the determination of who is recognized as being a lawyer. As a result, the meaning of the term “lawyer” may vary from place to place.
Some jurisdictions have two types of lawyers, barrister and solicitors, while others fuse the two. A barrister (also known as an advocate or counselor in some jurisdictions) is a lawyer who typically specializes in arguing before courts, particularly in higher courts. A solicitor (or attorney) is a lawyer who is trained to prepare cases and give advice on legal subjects. Depending on jurisdiction, solicitors can also represent people in lower courts but do not have ordinarily have rights of audience in higher courts. Both solicitors and barristers are trained in law. However, in jurisdictions where there is a split profession, only barristers are admitted as members of a bar association.
The distinction between barristers and solicitors originated in the English legal system, but many countries that adopted English law have eliminated the distinction. Countries such as New Zealand, Canada (with the exception of Quebec, which practices civil law), India, Pakistan, and the US have adopted a fused profession, where all lawyers have the privileges of both barristers and solicitors.
Some fused-profession jurisdictions use one term to describe lawyers generally. For example, the US lawyers are typically referred to as “attorneys”, while Indian and Pakistani lawyers are known as “advocates”. Other fused jurisdictions use terms such as “barrister and solicitor” or “attorney and counselor” to describe lawyers in general.
Nonetheless, the terminology of “barrister” and “solicitor” may still be applied to lawyers who deal in the specific kinds of work barristers and solicitors generally do. In countries like the US, however, the term “trial lawyer” typically describes the work of a lawyer who specialises primarily in arguing cases.
Nonetheless, in countries like England, Wales, Australia, and South Africa, the distinction between barristers and solicitors remain. Additionally, England and Wales has a number of other classifications of lawyers, which include registered foreign lawyers, patent attorneys, trademark attorneys, licensed conveyancers, public notaries, commissioners for oaths, immigration advisers and chartered legal executives. Under the English Legal Services Act 2007, “lawyer” is not a protected title. In other jurisdictions, like the United States, there are strict restrictions on who may call themselves a lawyer, with paralegals and patent agents generally disallowed.