Terminology — lawyer or attorney?

More from usage guru Bryan Garner:

Garner“Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day

lawyer; attorney; counsel; counselor.

The two most common among these, “lawyer” and “attorney,” are not generally distinguished even by members of the legal profession — except perhaps that “lawyer” is often viewed as having negative connotations. Thus one frequently hears about “lawyer-bashing,” but only the tone-deaf write “attorney-bashing” — e.g.: “Attorney-bashing [read ‘Lawyer-bashing’] always will be a popular pastime.” Christopher Smith, “Injury Lawyer May Be Utah’s Best — Bar None,” Salt Lake Trib., 7 Feb. 1994, at A1.

Technically, “lawyer” is the more general term, referring to one who practices law. “Attorney” literally means “one who is designated to transact business for another.” An attorney — archaically apart from the phrases “power of attorney” and, less commonly, “attorney-in-fact” — may or may not be a lawyer. Thus Samuel Johnson’s statement that “attorney” “was anciently used for those who did any business for another; now only in law.” A Dictionary of the English Language (1755).

From the fact that an attorney is really an agent, Bernstein deduces that “a lawyer is an attorney only when he has a client. It may be that the desire of lawyers to appear to be making a go of their profession has accounted for their leaning toward the designation attorney.” Theodore M. Bernstein, The Careful Writer 60 (1965). Yet this distinction between lawyer and attorney is rarely, if ever, observed in practice.

In American English, “counsel” and “counselor” are both, in one sense, general terms meaning “one who gives (legal) advice,” the latter being the more formal term. “Counsel” may refer to but one lawyer {opposing counsel says} or, as a plural, to more than one lawyer {opposing counsel say}.”

Me, I prefer lawyer because it sounds more practical, less Latinate than attorney. Your characters may disagree — Garner does!

Another prosecutor killed — and a prayer

Two months ago, I wrote twice in two days about lawyers who were shot and killed because of their work — Mark Hummels, a civil attorney in Phoenix, and Mark Hasse, an assistant county attorney in Texas, in a county near Dallas.  And in March, Colorado Director of Corrections Tom Clements was murdered.

Now it seems that Hasse’s boss and his wife, Kaufman County District Attorney Mike McLelland and his wife Cynthia, have been murdered in their home. Here’s the Washington Post account. Why? We don’t know yet.

Because I believe everything we do and say has reverberations in the world far beyond what we know, I urge you to find a way to transform your anger and fear into a deep desire — the deepest desire you can muster — for peace and justice in the world. Because anger and fear do us no good unless we use them for good.