Have you ever called someone a lawyer and wondered if you should have said attorney instead? Chances are, whatever you said, you probably were correct. The two terms are used pretty much interchangeably in the United States. But, there is actually a difference between the two.

A lawyer is a person who has been trained in the law (as in, has a law degree). However, having a law degree does not in and of itself give a person the ability to practice law. To do that, a person must have passed the bar and be admitted to the jurisdiction they plan to practice in.

An attorney, on the other hand, is a person who has both a law degree and a license to practice. In other words, that person passed the bar exam and was admitted into the jurisdiction he or she practices in.

So think of lawyers as rectangles and attorneys as squares. All squares are rectangles, but not all rectangles are squares; similarly, all attorneys are lawyers, but not all lawyers are attorneys.

In most cases, you can use whichever term you like best.

But whatever term you choose, just try to be nice. Attorneys (and lawyers) have feelings, too!