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Legal terms

Krista Soenen from Belgium asks:

I'm a student attending an English course in Gent, Belgium. Recently we had a discussion about the correct use and the difference between the following words:


Is there any difference in use?


Roger replies:

These legal terms all belong to the same family of words, but are quite different in use.

Solicitors are lawyers who give legal advice to clients and prepare legal documents and cases. Solicitors often specialise in different areas: there are, for example, family law solicitors and company law solicitors. They do not usually, to my knowledge, appear in court. The following would be an example of usage:

  • 'When my husband left me, I was advised to put the matter into the hands of a solicitor.'
Attorney is American English word for a British English lawyer. The D.A. or District Attorney is a lawyer in the U.S. who works for the state and prosecutes people on behalf of it. There are also, of course, defense attorneys in America who act on behalf of their clients. Consider the following:
  • 'Nobody wanted the position of district attorney ?it was poorly paid in comparison with that of defense attorney.'

(Note that in British English defence is spelt ‘defence?and not ‘defense?)


A lawyer, then, in British English, is a person who is qualified to advise people about the law and represent them in court. We talk about lawyers for the prosecution and lawyers for the defence. Study the following:
  • 'The defence court case cost ?60,000 in lawyers?fees alone.'
A barrister in British English is a lawyer who operates in the higher courts of law in Britain and speaks on behalf of either the prosecution or the defence:
  • 'He was regarded as an eloquent and persuasive barrister and was much in demand for a period of over twenty years.'
We also speak about the prosecution counsel or the defence counsel when referring to the team of lawyers who are operating on behalf of either the state or a client:
  • 'The counsel for the defence argued that the case should never have been brought to court as it relied only on circumstantial evidence.'
However, please note that we do not use the term counsellor in the legal sense at all! A counsellor can be any person whose job it is to give advice, care and support to those who need it. Consider the following:
  • 'This hospital employs 15 counsellors whose job it is to deal with patients suffering from severe depression.'