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I'm watching a law and court related TV show and the following terms are being used. What are the differences between them? I'm interested in the differences in connotation if there are any. Or are they more or less interchangeable?

  • litigator
  • counsel
  • attorney

I've looked the terms up in a dictionary but since I am not native English, I don't get the nuances in meaning.

Definitions according to Oxford Dictionary:

  • litigator
    • to litigate: resort to legal action to settle a matter; be involved in a lawsuit
  • counsel
    • a barrister or other legal adviser conducting a case
  • attorney
    • a person, typically a lawyer, appointed to act for another in business or legal matters
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It's counsel, "a barrister or other legal adviser conducting a case" (although they are pronounced the same, so it's not easy to tell them apart from listening to a TV show) –  Andrew Leach Aug 4 '12 at 17:39
    
In G.B., a solicitor or attorney does all sorts of legal work for clients but generally appears only in inferior courts. A barrister is a trial lawyer or litigator. In AmE counsel [see Leach's comment] and counselor are both, in one sense, general terms meaning "one who gives (legal) advice," the latter being the more formal term. See in "A Dictionary of Modern Legal Usage" by Bryan A. Garner. –  user19148 Aug 4 '12 at 17:52
2  
In G.B., we don't use the term attorney; a litigator is just as likely to be a client as a lawyer; counsel would normally be a barrister, but the term is generally limited to lawyers providing legal advice. I'm not providing an answer to the question because the British system with which I'm somewhat familiar is so markedly different to the American way of doing things. –  Andrew Leach Aug 4 '12 at 18:20
    
Sorry @Andrew. I'm sure you are right and Garner is wrong. I have always suspected that Garner is not the more attendible author, and I have a proof of that now. Thank you. –  user19148 Aug 4 '12 at 19:02
    
@AndrewLeach: I fixed the spelling mistake in the question. Thank you! –  Lernkurve Aug 4 '12 at 20:25

1 Answer 1

up vote 3 down vote accepted

In U.S. practice, the terms are used as follows:

Litigator - an attorney whose practice is focused on litigation, that is lawsuits. This is mostly used to refer to people who specialize in civil suits (suits brought by someone other than a criminal prosecution agency) seeking an award of money or an injunction (a judicial order) requiring someone to do something or stop doing something.

She was a litigator specializing in intellectual property trial work.

Counsel - This is a general term for lawyer, also known as counselor. It is frequently used to refer to a lawyer who works exclusively for one company or one agency.

He was general counsel to the NBA.

After the outburst, the Judge said "Counselor, control your client."

Attorney - this is a general term for a lawyer in both the federal and state court systems in the U.S. In general, attorneys in the U.S. are permitted all types of practice (with a few minor exception) unlike the solicitor/barrister systems elsewhere.

The attorneys who graduated from that law school went on to various jobs as litigators, criminal lawyers, corporate lawers, and in-house counsel.

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