Author : Archana Yadav

While passing through a road you must have noticed those introductory boards that read “ADVOCATE Xyz”, or while attending those history lectures in junior classes, you shall have come across the fact that M. K. Gandhi was South Africa returned “BARRISTER”. You must have countered with the term “ATTORNEY” during contract/business lectures. Also, if you are pursuing law, you must have dreamt quite many times that you will be a “LAWYER” soon.

Advocate, Barrister, Attorney and Lawyer. These are the terms you must have countered ‘n’ number of times. But have you ever been tickled with the question of relevance and distinction between these terms?

Generally, these terms are presumed to be synonyms. But, what is the exact meaning? or are these terms really limited to being synonyms of each other?

Difference between LAWYERS, ADVOCATES, BARRISTERS AND ATTORNEY, Let’s explore in detail.

The legal practitioners, in United States, are referred to as Lawyers and Attorneys. The term ‘lawyer’ has Middle English roots while ‘attorney’ is of French origin that means “a person acting for another as an agent or deputy.”

While, the terms Barrister and Solicitor have been traditionally used for legal representatives in the court of law on behalf of clients in England.

The term Advocate has its roots in Latin language. However, this term is mostly used in India interchangeably with terms, lawyer and attorney, each performing slightly different tasks. 


Lawyer and Attorney (Attorney-at-Law) are the terms used to refer to the legal practitioners in United States. These terms are considered synonyms.

Lawyer, according to US system, is any trained person in field of law and can represent clients and argue on their behalf in court of law. Lawyer can give advice and aid on legal matters. The law graduates or students pursuing their law degree without an approved license can also be called lawyers.

California, Virginia, Vermont and Washington are the only states in the world where any law aspirant can become a lawyer by only passing the bar exam without going to any law school ever.

Attorney is the official name to the lawyer in United States. Those lawyers who have qualified the bar exam and are approved with a license to practice are called attorneys. Here, a relationship can be established in case of United States, “All attorneys are lawyers but all lawyers are not attorneys.”

The following image illustrates the same:


Barristers and solicitors are two traditional divisions of the legal profession in England. These were the two constituents who played distinct roles for clients in cases.

Solicitors were the one who drew pleadings or written statements in a case filed before the court and performed functions of attorney for the clients.

Barristers argued the cases in the court on behalf of the same clients. Solicitor was the important link between the two. The solicitor briefed the barrister about the case. The barrister did not directly interacted with the clients and, therefore, they were independent from the client’s undue influences and disturbances regarding the cases. Moreover, in case of negligence on part of the solicitor, the barrister could advice their clients about the possible claims in the case.

However, the two dividends of the English judiciary are no more limited to their traditional roles. They are now exploring other sides of the legal practice.


India provides no expressed distinction between these terms because of the integrated system. However, the distinction may be slightly determined by the practical nature of the tasks of each position.

Advocates & Lawyers

The difference between an advocate and a lawyer is nowhere mentioned. Not even provided by any court of law in India.

Section 2(1) (a) of the Advocates Act, 1961 provides the definition of advocate. “Advocate” means an Advocate entered in any roll under the provisions of this act.

 Any person who have cleared the exam of any State Bar Council/All India Bar Exam would be enrolled in advocate roll under the provisions of the Advocates Act, 1961 would be known as Advocate. While, Bar Council allows law graduates to practice in courts even without appearing in any bar exam after graduation. But such graduates can only practice up to maximum of six months. Such practitioners are also considered within the definition of a lawyer.

A lawyer and an advocate, both present suits, represent their clients and argue on behalf of clients in the courts, give legal aids/advices. Some legal practitioners opine that advocates are the remarkable lawyers.

But, a company’s-in-house lawyer cannot be an advocate. As according to the rule 49 of the Bar Council of India, an advocate cannot accept full time salaried employment.

Hence, there seems that an advocate is a lawyer of superior classification.


Attorney is a person who is legally appointed to act on behalf of clients on the basis of power of attorney. A separate class of attorneys used to discharge the functions of solicitors.

The power of attorneys are further classified as:

  1. General Power
  2. Special Power
General Powers of an attorney:
  • An attorney is the representative of his client in his absence.
  • Can sell assets and take all required steps on the behalf of his client to protect all his (client’s) interest in legal matters.
Special Powers of an attorney:

In the case of special power of attorney, an attorney can represent his client in the court of law in some circumstances.

Two kinds of attorneys are observed as:

  1. Attorney-at-Fact

An attorney-at-Fact is a holder of the power of attorney who is able to act on another’s behalf in legal and     financial context and not necessarily a lawyer. He has limited representational scope. Suggests agent-principle relationship.

  • Attorney-at-Law

An Attorney-at-Law is an official title of lawyers in some jurisdictions.

Power of attorney for appearing in courts

A VAKALANAMA refers to the power of attorney for appearing in the court on behalf of the client for any case. It can be executed in favor of any advocate in India. An attorney requires to file a VAKALATNAMA in the court before the trial to appear and represent the client in the court. No attorney can represent client on another’s behalf in the court without filing a vakalatnama or without the instructions of an advocate who has filed the vakalatnama.

Barristers & Solicitors

No distinction of barristers and solicitors is recognized by the court of law in India. But many advocates use these titles to indicate their positions. For instance, an advocate of India in association with solicitor in United Kingdom terms himself as solicitor. Similarly, any advocate who had been called by the bar in England uses the title barrister.


The terms lawyer, advocate, barrister, solicitor and attorney are all related to the same legal background. These terms have been originated from different places and therefore, the same terms may depict meanings with slight differences in different countries. The reason behind the differences in the meaning may also include the differences in the jurisdictions of the countries. Differences in the rules prevailing in a particular country regarding the required qualification for a similar official posts/levels results in discretion.