We often use the terms “attorney” and “lawyer” interchangeably in our everyday lives without giving them a second thought.

But if we were to get specific with these definitions, it’s necessary to draw a clear distinction between the two — including the challenges the representatives of these two professions have to face and overcome to be successful.

What is a lawyer?

Let’s start with a lawyer.

This word has Middle English origins, and it describes someone skilled in the art of law and with a relevant background.

Lawyers usually graduate from law school and sometimes pass the bar exam to get on with their careers.

However, it doesn’t necessarily imply the fact that a lawyer is someone who is employed in a court.

Depending on the specific industries, a lawyer’s responsibilities can vary.

Generally speaking, they can be described as providing a fair and accurate understanding of the facts and basis for any and all applicable laws.

What is an attorney?

The word “attorney” is of French origin and suggests that the individual is, in fact, someone who practices law in court.

To do so, you must pass the bar exam (provided by the state’s bar association), a test designed to assess the competency of specific laws and general legal knowledge.

An attorney must strictly adhere to a code of ethics and professional conduct rules.

In a court, attorneys are primarily responsible for presenting evidence and questioning witnesses.

How is a lawyer different from an attorney?


Attending law school is the first step toward becoming a lawyer or an attorney.

This is a great path to take, paving the way for you to learn the required theoretical background and develop the critical thinking and communication skills necessary for the legal profession, as well as begin cultivating a professional network.

It’s also a reliable way to secure a higher earning potential, with salaries ranging from $82,430 to $127,990, depending on a specific type of law you practice.

Keep in mind that you will almost certainly be expected to work more than 40 hours per week, at least in the early stages of your career.


A Master of Laws (LLM degree) is a preferable option offered by many educational institutions with a law program, giving students a relevant background with multiple application areas possible.

Depending on where you intend to work, you may be required to obtain additional education and licensing — important factors that could affect your income.

Since the basic level of education for both lawyers and attorneys doesn’t present many fundamental differences, a particular field of law matters a great deal.

For example, pursuing a Master of Laws degree, you can choose the environment, business, human rights, or intellectual property (IP) as your specialty.

But during your time of study, you’ll have the opportunity to become familiar with bankruptcy, tax, civil rights, labor law and other areas of focus.

Regardless of your degree, you will require more training for your specific area of expertise (and you will be expected to stick to it!).

To give you an example, as an environmental lawyer, you’ll need additional education on regulation bodies, penalties, emission standards, etc.

Overall, both these law professionals can be viewed as “lawyers” in a general sense. It’s just the fact that one decides to pursue a career in court (attorney), and the other doesn’t, which makes them different.

A lawyer’s role is typically limited to a legal officer or council, while an attorney can act in the capacity of a litigation or a patent attorney.

Lawyers and attorneys are predominantly involved in real estate, criminal and civil justice, intellectual property (IP), corporate, and immigration law.

Career opportunities

When choosing a career path as a lawyer or an attorney, it’s important to weigh your opportunities to make decisions that best suit your goals and the trajectory you intend to pursue.

The number of employed lawyers is projected to increase by 10% by 2031, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics — which is well above the national average when compared to other occupations.

Just under 49,000 openings are expected to appear annually as a result of new positions offered because of vacancies due to retirements or people switching occupations.

As of 2023, the US has over 1.3 million active lawyers.

Unfortunately, many sources still don’t draw a fine line between lawyers and attorneys, so the above-mentioned stats include representatives of both professions.

It’s worth noting that despite the confusion, both attorneys and lawyers get influenced by the same factors regarding future job prospects.

Speaking of confusion with respect to the legal profession, one way to alleviate it is by embracing technology that makes communication and documentation easier — between businesses, their clients, and all the legal reps in between.

When organizations adopt modern tech platforms that streamline workflows and contract management, the lawyers and attorneys on staff (and that very well might mean you!) are able to work more effectively.

At the same time, clients are able to better appreciate the quality of the service provided and know that their time is valued.

Irrespective of the legal career path you choose (or if you’ve already embarked upon one), at PandaDoc, we’ve got you covered on all fronts — to learn more about how to get the power of technology by your side, consider scheduling a demo.


Let’s talk for a minute about challenges that are unique to lawyers and attorneys.

There’s a general tendency of people spending less money on legal services, pressing lawyers to work extra hard to stay in the game — while also managing the debt accumulated in law school.

On top of that, it’s hard to keep track of laws and regulations, particularly for lawyers covering a few related sectors of the law.

Given all that, it can be really challenging career-wise to build up a strong brand image, especially if working as an individual — and all the more reason for you to capitalize on document automation whenever possible.

Dealing with certain “presumed innocent until proven guilty” and otherwise problematic clients may be an emotional and/or psychological challenge at times for any attorney — particularly for those that are just getting started with their careers.

Failing to perform your duty, like protecting your client in a court, can feel like a heavy setback, potentially dealing a blow to your aspiring career as a lifelong attorney.

Whether as lawyer or attorney, be sure to choose an aspect of the law that you’ll continue to find fulfilling throughout your profession.

Get a headstart on your career with PandaDoc!

Despite some differences, lawyers and attorneys share many similarities.

Depending on the industry, lawyers and attorneys can deal with various levels of excessive documentation.

Just to give you an idea, here are some document examples that business lawyers need to handle:

  • Marketing agreements;
  • Technical agreements;
  • Tripartite agreement;
  • Procurement agreements;
  • Employment agreements;
  • Confidentiality agreements;
  • Franchise agreements;
  • Supply agreements;
  • Service agreements;
  • Non-disclosure agreements;

Now, throw into this list power of attorney (POA) docs, lease agreements, contracts, warranties, real estate purchase agreements, etc., and it’s easy to see how you might be faced with challenging tasks where each mistake eats up valuable time and resources.

To prevent that from happening, you need to decrease the amount of manual work involved and move to paperless solutions.

Using pre-established templates will save you time: you can go back and forth on documents with your clients, making revisions as needed and effortlessly.

Once you are ready, send out the final documents for approval and signing. That said, it’s worth mentioning that not all electronic signature software solutions are fit to notarize documents.

PandaDoc is state-approved for remote online notarization (RON) and is MISMO-certified.

As an all-in-one RON platform, PandaDoc allows you to create, edit, e-sign, and notarize documents for your clients in no time.

You can check here whether RON is supported in your state using the interactive map.

Having the right tools at your disposal is just as important as your law degree: start exploring PandaDoc today with your free 14-day trial!


PandDoc is not a law firm, or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. This page is not intended to and does not provide legal advice. Should you have legal questions on the validity of e-signatures or digital signatures and the enforceability thereof, please consult with an attorney or law firm. Use of PandaDocs services are governed by our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.