The old Arkansas Gazette observed a distinction between lawyer and attorney, and if you worked there, you were expected to remember it. I did and still do, but I think that it’s largely ignored in general usage today.

The old rule was that an attorney was someone who was designated to transact business for another. An attorney might or might not be a lawyer. A lawyer is someone who practices law. But he or she is not a lawyer just in the courtroom. The designation goes with you whatever else you may be doing: “Lawyer files for City Council.” “Lawyer flees with bank funds, banker’s wife.”

Garner’s Modern American Usage says that nowadays, lawyer and attorney are not generally distinguished, even by members of the legal profession. With one exception — lawyer is often viewed as having negative connotations. Attorney sounds respectable, even if the person is on the lam. “One frequently hears about lawyer-bashing, but only the tone-deaf write attorney-bashing,” Garner says.

“But using the technology would require getting judges, prosecutors and defense councils on board, and there could be unanticipated legal problems, he said.”


The Gazette also maintained, and so should you, still, that council and counsel are not the same thing. A council is a meeting for discussion, or a permanent committee or assembly. Counsel is the process of discussion or consultation; formal advice resulting from discussion; or any kind of advice. “In legal usage a lawyer or group of lawyers giving advice and representing a client in litigation can be called counsel (plural as well as singular).”

He can also be called counselor. I and millions of others first became familiar with this term in the old “Perry Mason” TV show, the original version from the ’50s. Perry was frequently addressed as “counselor” in the courtroom, shortly before he revealed the true identity of the murderer, who happened to be the prosecution’s chief witness. I wonder how many lawyers Raymond Burr is responsible for. A bunch, I know, and I might have been one of them had I not been called into a real courtroom at an impressionable age. No Perry Masons in there.