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I have wondered from time to time about the phrase "attorney at law." Are there other kinds of attorneys? Attorneys at arms? If not, why do we specify?

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Someone had posted an answer with "at law" versus "at equity," but it is gone. Could whoever posted it let me know if it was inaccurate? –  KitFox Jun 28 '11 at 11:28
    
I didn't post it, but it would be inaccurate. –  Marcin Jun 28 '11 at 18:15
    
Attorney at law, Attorney Means = to act for another, represent. At Law = Common law. So really this is a faults claim because this is really how it should read, attorney at equity because equity deals with statutory law, not common, there are no statutes in common law. Basically statutory is not real law, its more like public rule, policy or public code. The way i see it is statutory law is for the special interest and common law is for the people. At least that's what it serves. –  user73234 Apr 26 at 2:14
    
@Rebel Law and equity were two different court systems, one dealing with monetary claims and one dealing with compelling certain actions (delivery of land or goods, forbidding or requiriing certain conduct). Both of these courts had provisions that derived from common law and statute. –  bib May 1 at 19:04

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up vote 16 down vote accepted

One definition of an attorney is "A person appointed to act for another in business or legal matters." See also http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/attorney. This usage is seen in such phrases as "power of attorney", which employs an attorney-in-fact.

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Oh, I see. So the "at law" means that they have a law degree, do you suppose? And "in fact" means they may or may not have a law degree? –  KitFox Jun 27 '11 at 20:02
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It's not quite that simple, but basically yes. In the legal world, "lawyer" and "attorney" have a definition that requires the person so named to have a law degree and a bar card. A person can be a "representative" with power of attorney for another person without having a law degree or being a bar member, thus being an attorney in-fact, but the representative cannot be the person's legal representation (lawyer) without a bar card. –  KeithS Jun 27 '11 at 20:18
    
Attorney-in-fact is now an americanism, though. –  Marcin Jun 27 '11 at 20:20

In its entry for "Attorney at law," Black's Law Dictionary (1968) has an interesting quotation from Rapalje & Lawrence, A Table of American and English Cases (1882):

The term "attorney at law," as used in the United States, usually includes "barrister," "counsellor," and "solicitor," in the sense in which those terms are used in England. In some states, as well as in the United States supreme court, "attorney" and "counsellor" are are distinguishable, the former term being applied to the younger members of the bar, and to those who carry on the practice and formal parts of the suit, while "counsellor" is the adviser, or special counsel retained to try the cause.

I don't know whether the broad, general distinction between attorney at law and counselor that Rapalje & Lawrence describes remains true, but I believe that referring to a party's in-court representative at trial as counselor or counsel is still standard in many jurisdictions.

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My professional license says that I am an Attorney and Counselor at Law in Washington State, USA. I represent clients in courts of law and equity, which are no longer separate courts in most states. When I achieved my Juris Doctorate, I was a law graduate and a lawyer. When I passed the bar exam, passed the background check and made the oath as an officer of the court, I received the state-issued license to be an attorney at law.

The gist of attorney is the authority to do some legal act for someone else.

An attorney-in-fact requires no education in the law. A principal appoints an attorney-in-fact as the principal's agent to perform some act with legal consequence, often in the absence of the principal. For example, a military officer assigned overseas might appoint his mother as his attorney-in-fact to conduct his banking transactions, to execute contracts for him, or to buy real property in his name.

Professors in US law schools are usually lawyers who do not have the license to practice as attorneys at law. Judges in the United States are usually lawyers, and most of them at one time were licensed as attorneys at law. Professors and judges do not represent clients, so they will often let the attorney license lapse rather than pay the hundreds of dollars every year to maintain it.

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Attorney in its original meaning means to turn toward. Any person tasked with undertaking a business procedure is legally an attorney. Strictly speaking, a lawyer is NOT an attorney, until appointed (hired) to perform a legal task. Lawyers prefer to be called attorneys because the term doesn't carry the stigma which the term, lawyer does. People joke about lawyers, not attorneys.

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The literal meaning may have been "turn to", but the actual meaning was "turn over", i.e., to delegate. –  Peter Shor Mar 23 at 1:35
    
It might also be related to the word that means "to twist", and some attorneys are very good at this. –  Cyberherbalist Sep 30 at 21:56

Attorney in the US sense is an abbreviation for attorney at law, or public attorney. There are different types, like the private attorney.

Attorney at law or attorney-at-law, usually abbreviated in everyday speech to attorney, is the official name for a lawyer in certain jurisdictions, including, Japan, Sri Lanka and the United States.

The term was also used in England and Wales for lawyers who practised in the common law courts. In 1873, however, attorneys were redesignated solicitors (which had always been the title for those lawyers who practised in the courts of equity)

Source: Wikipedia

Also:

In English law, a private attorney was one appointed to act for another in business or legal affairs (usually for pay); an attorney at law or public attorney was a qualified legal agent in the courts of Common Law who prepared the cases for a barrister, who pleaded them (the equivalent of a solicitor in Chancery). So much a term of contempt in England that it was abolished by the Judicature Act of 1873 and merged with solicitor.

Source: Online Etymology Dictionary

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Private attorneys still exist. –  Marcin Jun 27 '11 at 20:19
    
Edited and corrected, thanks! –  Hugo Jun 27 '11 at 20:43
    
In the UK, the only kind of attorney today is a person appointed to manage somebody else's affairs (for example in case of incapacity), so the term is never qualified. However, we almost always talk about the "power of attorney" being vested in somebody, and rarely use the word "attorney" to refer to the person. –  Colin Fine Jun 28 '11 at 14:20
    
@Colin: Lawyers say "attorney" all the time. It's just awkward to avoid referring to the office. –  Marcin Jun 28 '11 at 18:16
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I'm a barrister in England which means I am a lawyer, an advocate but not an attorney-at-law. I'd have to retrain as a solicitor to be an attorney-at-law (though it is unclear what having a right to litigate might mean - that is so new we haven't worked it out). An attorney at law could act in someone's place for legal purposes (eg by going on the court record). Barristers have never had that role. –  Francis Davey May 8 at 7:09

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