The Difference Between Attorney and Counselor

Question: I noticed that some lawyers’ offices have attorneys at law some say counselors at law, but yours says attorneys and counselors at law. Why is that? – John, Tuscumbia, AL

Answer: Traditionally, families would have a lawyer or law firm that they would consult with for their legal affairs. Most lawyers can handle routine matters, but just like doctors, others truly are specialists within the law.

The best example is that of England’s legal system which is divided between lawyers that handle routine legal matters known as solicitors and barristers which are those lawyers who actually try cases to juries. England recognizes that the ability to try a case before a jury is a specialty at law that many lawyers have no desire to engage in. Some lawyers are uncomfortable trying jury trials but are very competent in other areas of the law.

A counselor at law who handles routine matters might very well not be confident that they are the best lawyer to handle a specialized tax matter or high level civil appeal or criminal case or even a DUI or traffic citation. There are lawyers who routinely handle DUIs and criminal cases and these lawyers often don’t handle civil appellate matters. So a counselor at law would advise as to the best choice of a lawyer for the problem at hand. Just like people would not see an eye doctor for a heart attack you will find that lawyers develop skills in certain areas and some lawyers are truly specialized in their practice.

An attorney at law can handle any matter that they decide to take on as long as they can do so competently with the best interests of the client in mind. I would recommend certain divorce lawyers in certain cases involving divorce and I would recommend certain criminal lawyers for clients of mine that had criminal charges against them. In that role, I would be a counselor at law rather than acting as my client’s attorney at law. Be familiar with the types of experience your lawyer has and ask about their experience in trying your type of case to a verdict. Ask if they would recommend someone else to handle that type of case or co-counsel in the case if they are not comfortable with the type of case you have. Use the right tool for the job.

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