You get into a car accident and decide that you need some help filing an injury claim. The process of filing a lawsuit is complicated – and there’s a lot on the line – so you think it should be handled by someone who has experience handling these types of cases. So, you open Google and begin to search for “personal injury attorney near me.” Then you stop and wonder if you should search for a “personal injury lawyer,” instead.

What’s the difference between a lawyer and an attorney? Is there a difference? Does it matter which one you choose when you need legal help? Here’s what you need to know.

What’s a Lawyer?

A lawyer is someone who has received a legal education. They’ve gone to and graduated from law school. A lawyer may or may not have taken and passed the bar exam, which is required before you can legally practice law in the United States.

What’s an Attorney?

An attorney is also someone who has received a legal education. However, in addition to going to law schools, attorneys have taken and passed the bar exam. This means that they’re qualified to practice law in the state(s) where they’ve passed the bar.

The Titles Are Often Interchangeable

So, an attorney is always a lawyer, but a lawyer isn’t always an attorney. The difference ultimately comes down to whether or not that person has passed the bar.

Ultimately, however, the terms lawyer and attorney are often used interchangeably. In the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t really make a difference for everyday people. It’s the American Bar Association (and state bar associations) that worry about those titles. In the eyes of bar associations, attorneys are the only ones who can legally practice law.

If you’re searching for legal advice on the internet, you’ll probably get results for attorneys and lawyers. In reality, these results are probably all for fully licensed attorneys. How they’ve chosen to advertise themselves – attorney at law or lawyer – likely comes down to their own personal preference.

How Can I Tell If Someone Is a Licensed Attorney?

When you need help with a lawsuit, you need to be sure that you’re working with an attorney who’s licensed in your state. So, how can you tell if someone is a lawyer or an attorney if the titles are used interchangeably?

The best thing to do is to go to your state’s bar association website. Use the attorney search feature and enter your lawyer’s name. If they show up in the system, they’re a licensed attorney and fully capable of practicing law in the state. This search can also tell you if the attorney has any disciplinary orders filed against them, which might be helpful when you’re choosing legal counsel.

You can also schedule free consultations with a couple of personal injury attorneys in your area. When you sit down and speak with them about your case, you can ask them if they’ve passed the bar and where they are licensed to practice. They’ll have to be fully transparent about their ability (or lack thereof) to help you navigate the legal system. It’s actually a crime for a someone to pass themselves off as an attorney and practice without a license.