I want an English word for an attorney (lawyer)'s client, i.e. someone who employs a lawyer to defend them in court. Client might actually be just fine, but I am looking for a word more consistent with its counterpart.

By counterpart I mean its opposing position e.g. employer -> employee, caller->callee, etc. The word might be used like this (using the non-existent counterpart lawyer -> lawyee to illustrate):

She'd had a distinguished career as a lawyer, but now she was the lawyee.

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    An attorney's client will be either plaintiff or defendant depending on whether he/she sues someone or is sued, respectively. This conveys the client's role in the process, though, not their relation to the attorney. – olegst Jul 11 '16 at 9:17
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    I can't think of a counterpart like that unfortunately, but there is a term employer-employee relationship and there is a term attorney-client privilege – Mystic Odin Jul 11 '16 at 9:49
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    Client is the term in the US. In the case of a criminal charge the client might also be a defendant, and in the case of a civil court case the client might be either defendant or plaintiff. – Hot Licks Jul 11 '16 at 12:10
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    If you really want to confuse people, use attorney/attorner. Or attorneyer/attorneyee. – Sven Yargs Jul 12 '16 at 0:11
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    Editing to improve questions/answers is one of the actions encouraged by this site. Rather than being just a Q&A forum, it becomes a valuable internet resource! PS feel free to wait if you think a better answer might be forthcoming, but don't forget to "tick" the answer you think provides the best solution to your question :-) – Chappo Hasn't Forgotten Monica Jul 12 '16 at 8:13

Following the idea of counterparts, the appropriate pair is:

litigator / litigant

See this answer for initial reference. The following provides more detail, as I found that both terms are somewhat ambiguously defined in the standard online resources.

Litigant is defined by ODO as "A person involved in a lawsuit." Dictionary.com and Merriam-Webster offer a similar definition. Now, I'd always thought of a litigant as strictly the plaintiff, in the sense that they are the one who litigates, but it seems my reliance on the suffix -ant to denote the agent of the action (e.g. propel/propellant, defend/defendant) was misplaced.

To dispel any doubt, this source makes it clear that litigant means "plaintiff, defendant, petitioner, respondent, cross-complainant, and cross-defendant, but not a witness or attorney" [my emphasis].

Litigator has two meanings according to Dictionary.com (but read on to see why this can't be trusted):

  1. a courtroom lawyer.
  2. a litigant.

It cites the word origin as

agent noun from Latin litigare (see litigation ). Latin litigator meant "a party to a lawsuit; litigant."

Unhelpfully, it also notes that "litigator" can be confused with "litigant".

Two other sources are even less useful: ODO simply defines it as the noun derivative of "litigate", which means "Resort to legal action to settle a matter; be involved in a lawsuit", and similarly Merriam-Webster goes no further than naming it as the noun form, along with "litigation".

The Free Dictionary is equally unhelpful, defining litigator as "a person who litigates" but failing to specify whether the lawyer involved in the lawsuit is "litigating".

Thankfully, however, the same site has a "legal" tab. This definition, citing Burton's Legal Thesaurus, is quite explicit:

litigator noun
appointed counsel, attorney, counsel, counsel representing a party, lead counnel, legal adversary, legal opponent, litigating attorney, littgation counsel, of counsel, opposing counsel, retained counsel

TL;DR: On the basis of all the above, I think I can confidently declare that a litigator is a lawyer, and the counterpart - the litigant - is their client.

  • Only some lawyers are litigators, and only some of their clients are litigants. Moreover, even in the situations in which the lawyer is a litigator and the lawyer's client a litigant, these words do not bring out that they are two parties to the same lawyer-client relationship; they are rather about their respective relationships to the rest of the legal system. – jsw29 Feb 25 at 17:39
  • @jsw29 well of course; you may as well add that only some dogs are poodles, and only some poodles have fleas. But are all poodles dogs? Or, more relevantly, are all litigators lawyers? And can a flea also be a poodle? Or to cut to the chase: can a self-representing litigant in a lawsuit be correctly described as a litigator in that lawsuit? – Chappo Hasn't Forgotten Monica Feb 25 at 17:57
  • Of course not (to the last two questions). In certain cases, the words litigator and litigant are perfectly apt. They will never be confused with each other. My point was merely that they are not related to each other in the way in which employer and employee are (which is what the OP sought), and that they cannot be used as the substitutes for lawyer and client, when one speaks of the lawyer-client relationship in general (which, again, seems to be what the OP sought). But then, there is no substitute for client in such contexts. – jsw29 Feb 25 at 18:09
  • @jsw29 Your first comment does raise a valid question: does the lawyer-client relationship only exist in the context of litigation? Can a lawyer have a client who is not a litigant? I think the answer might be yes, but it may also come down to the terminology in specific jurisdictions. And law is not my area of expertise: IANAL. ;-) – Chappo Hasn't Forgotten Monica Feb 25 at 18:21
  • With all due respect, the answer to that question is emphatically yes, it's not just that it 'might be yes'. One becomes a lawyer's client when one asks a lawyer to incorporate one's business, to draft a contract, to get advice on the legal implications of a proposed business transaction, and so forth. In all these cases, as soon as one consults a lawyer, elaborate rules that govern lawyer-client relationships come into play. The terminological differences discussed in the linked Wikipedia entry do not affect that point. – jsw29 Feb 25 at 22:16

At the trial level, the parties are typically called the plaintiff or petitioner and the defendant or respondent. On appeal, parties are called the appellant and appellee.


  • None of these describe the lawyer/client relationship, only the role of the party in the court case. – jsheeran Feb 25 at 12:55
  • Thanks@jsheeran, The question reads, to me, as "...i.e. someone who employs a lawyer to defend them in court." In this case would not the 'lawyer's' be the "possessive" (lawyer's), thus client of the lawyer? – user414952 Feb 25 at 14:00
  • I agree with @jsheeran: I think you've misunderstood the question's request for "counterpart" terms. The question makes it clear that one counterpart must be the lawyer, and the other counterpart must be their client. Appellant/appellee doesn't satisfy this requirement. – Chappo Hasn't Forgotten Monica Feb 25 at 18:31
  • Hi @– Chappo Hasn't Forgotten Monica, Thanks for response. Taking another hard look at question..... – user414952 Feb 25 at 19:25

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