In the U.S. they’re collectively called everything from “attorney” to “lawyer” to “counselor.” Are these terms truly equivalent, or has the identity of one been mistaken for another? What exactly is a “Licensed BAR Attorney?” This credential accompanies every legal paper produced by attorneys, along with a Bar License number. We are about to show; an “attorney” is not a “lawyer”, and the average attorney unduly accepts the honour to be called “lawyer” when he is not.
In order to discern the difference, and where we stand within the current court system, it’s necessary to examine the British origins of our U.S. courts and the terminology that has been established from the beginning. It’s important to understand the proper lawful definitions for the various titles we now give these court related occupations.
The legal profession in the U.S. is directly derived from the British system. Even the word “bar” is of British origin:
A particular portion of a court room. Named from the space enclosed by two bars or rails one of which separated the judge’s bench from the rest of the room; the other shut off both the bench and the area for lawyers engaged in trials from the space allotted to suitors, witnesses, and others. Such ‘persons’ as appeared as speakers (advocates, or counsel) before the court, were said to be “called to the bar”, that is, privileged so to appear, speak and otherwise serve in the presence of the judges as “barristers.” The corresponding phrase in the United States is”admitted to the bar”. – A Dictionary of Law (1893). The corresponding colloquial phrase is”admitted to the bar”. – A Dictionary of Law (1893).
From the definition of bar the title and occupation of a “barrister” is derived:
English law. A counselor admitted to plead at the bar. 2. Ouster barrister, is one who pleads ouster or without the bar. 3. Inner barrister, a sergeant or king’s counsel who pleads within the bar. 4. Vacation barrister, a counselor newly called to the bar, who is to attend for several long vacations the exercise of the house. 5. Barristers are called apprentices, apprentitii ad legem, being looked upon as learners, and not qualified until they obtain the degree of sergeant.
Edmund Plowden, the author of the Commentaries, a volume of elaborate reports in the reigns of Edward VI., Mary, Philip and Mary, and Elizabeth, describes himself as an apprentice of the common law. – A Law Dictionary by John Bouvier (Revised Sixth Edition, 1856). BARRISTER, n. [from bar.] A counselor, learned in the laws, qualified and admitted to please at the bar, and to take upon him the defense of clients; answering to the advocate or licentiate of other countries. Anciently, barristers were called, in England, apprentices of the law. Outer barristers are pleaders without the bar, to distinguish them from inner barristers, benchers or readers, who have been sometime admitted to please within the bar, as the king’s counsel are.Webster’s 1828 Dictionary.
Overall, a barrister is one who has the privilege to plead at the courtroom bar separating the judicial from the non-judicial spectators. In U.S. courts, the inner bar between the bench (judge) and the outer bar no longer exists, and the outer bar separates the attorneys (not lawyers) from the spectator’s gallery.