What is a Lawyer?

Just as a sawyer is one who's profession is engaging the use of a saw, a lawyer is one who professes and puts into practice a specific employment of law.

In England, only some lawyers are called "advocates." Others are called "solicitors," still others "barristers," "counselors," "mediators," and yes, even "attorneys." These are not terms referring to just any lawyer, they are specific titles used to designate the type of lawyer they are and how they practice law.

Advocates and solicitors have a very similar roll, but on the opposite side of any given dispute. While a solicitor is one who presents a case on behalf of an accuser, otherwise known as the plaintiff, an advocate provides argument for the defendant.

The barrister holds a specific position of trust beyond the area where even other lawyers are barred from entry. "Crossing the bar" means far more than just walking over to a different place in the room. It is the act of placing yourself under the jurisdictional authority of the court who's bar you've crossed.

A mediator's job is to facilitate an agreement between opposing sides. Counselors, on the other hand, primarily do just what their title indicates, counseling. To obtain "assistance of Counsel," therefore, is not the same as being represented by an attorney. So, what is an attorney?

Notice that the word for each title clearly identifies its unique characteristic:

  • Solicitor- one who solicits a cause of action
  • Advocate- one who advocates for the accused
  • Barrister- one who goes where others are barred from entry
  • Mediator- one who mediates between two parties
  • Counselor- one who provides counsel from a given perspective
  • Attorney- one who attorns or engages in attornment

The term "attorn" has its origin from the days of the English Feudal System. Its process employed the class title of nobility known as Esquire, which means a greater or elevated Squire. The Squire was an armor bearer for the Knight.

Among other duties, the Esquire performed the attornment ceremony, necessary to preserve a class structure of nobility. While performing his attorney functions, the Esquire used a system of unequal protection under different sets of laws. Among these varying standards were the laws of the King's Court, of the Exchequer Court, of the Common Courts of Pleas, and for the different levels of royalty, noblemen, freemen, peons, serfs and slaves.

The purpose of the attorney was, as it is today, to see that upon the transfer of any property of value nothing would get into the hands of the common people. Their job, if faithfully carried out, would assure that the rich get rich and the poor get poorer.

Remedies at Law article: What is a Lawyer? 12/1/98 by Glen Stoll