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Legal terms

Krista Soenen from Belgium asks:

I’m a student attending an English course in Gent, Belgium. Recently we had a discussion about the correct use and the difference between the following words:


Is there any difference in use?


Roger replies:more questions
The word lawyer is a general term and can mean anyone who gives legal advice or believes himself learned in one or more areas of law - it is often used to describe solicitors, barristers, legal executives and others - more often than not it is used to describe the whole legal profession

The traditional legal profession is however divided into solicitors and barristers.

  • solicitors advise clients and represent them in civil and criminal courts and also deal with business advice wills conveyancing and every area of law - some specialise in specific areas of law and others may be "general practitioners.
  • barristers (often called counsel) may be junior counsel or Queens counsel (selected for special ability and experience). Their clients are the solicitors who "instruct" them. At one time barristers had sole rights to appear in the High Court and the court of appeal and the house of Lords but this monopoly is now disappearing.

    At one time the solicitor appearing in open court wore a robe but the barrister wore a robe and a horsehair wig, but the wig is now being abolished.

Many thanks to Deborah Daniels, Solicitor, for help compiling this answer.
Attorney is American English word for a British English lawyer. The D.A. or District Attorney is a lawyer in the U.S. who works for the state and prosecutes people on behalf of it. There are also, of course, defense attorneys in America who act on behalf of their clients. Consider the following:
  • 'Nobody wanted the position of district attorney – it was poorly paid in comparison with that of defense attorney.'

(Note that in British English defence is spelt ‘defence’ and not ‘defense’.)


We also speak about the prosecution counsel or the defence counsel when referring to the team of lawyers who are operating on behalf of either the state or a client:
  • 'The counsel for the defence argued that the case should never have been brought to court as it relied only on circumstantial evidence.'
However, please note that we do not use the term counsellor in the legal sense at all! A counsellor can be any person whose job it is to give advice, care and support to those who need it. Consider the following:
  • 'This hospital employs 15 counsellors whose job it is to deal with patients suffering from severe depression.'

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