There may be various reasons for having to address a lawyer. It is not necessarily mean he is a lawyer, or you could address him as one. After all, one may have a law degree, but it does not mean he has appeared or passed the bar exam.
What’s most surprising is that the proper protocol to address a lawyer in the right way is often misunderstood by most people in the U.S. Hence, it is vitally important to understand the different kinds of lawyers and the protocol for addressing them the right way.
Below we will discuss the correct way of addressing a lawyer at a professional and a social level.
Table of Contents
- Attorney, Lawyer, and Counsel – What is the difference?
- J.D. & Esquire – What is the Difference?
- What is a J.D. Degree, and How to Address Someone with a J.D. Degree?
- How To Address a Practicing Attorney?
- How To Address an Attorney On a Professional Level?
- How To Address an Attorney In an Academic Setting?
- How To Address an Attorney In Court?
- How To Address an Attorney In Social Correspondence?
- How To Use “esquire” In The Right Way?
- How to Use “Attorney at Law” The Right Way?
- Final Thought
Attorney, Lawyer, and Counsel – What is the difference?
Attorney and lawyer are both titles used for legal professionals. These terms are often used interchangeably, even though they hold different meanings.
Simply put, an attorney is someone who graduated from a law school, passed the state’s bar exam, and can legally practice and represent a client in court. He can lawfully advise a client and act as a consultant for businesses and individuals. For instance, an attorney having expertise in law and finance can provide legal advice to his clients for various debt relief programs like debt settlement, debt consolidation, bankruptcy, etc.
A lawyer is someone who has not appeared or passed the state’s bar exam. While he can offer legal information, he can not provide legal advice or represent clients before a court of law.
Counsel, again, is someone who is educated and knowledgeable in the field of law. He may work for an organization, firm, or company, providing legal advice.
J.D. & Esquire – What is the Difference?
J.D. and Esq are both titles for someone who has passed law school. Again, the terms J.D. and Esq are often used interchangeably, although they hold different meanings. J.D. is used for a person who has graduated from a law school, but Esq is used for a person who has not only graduated from a law school but also has legal permission to practice and represent a client in court.
Simply put, the title J.D. is used for a lawyer, while Esquire is used for addressing an attorney.
What is a J.D. Degree, and How to Address Someone with a J.D. Degree?
A J.D. or Juris Degree is a professional law degree. It confirms the person has attended and graduated from a law school. This means that the person is eligible to appear, and upon passing the state bar exam, he will be acknowledged as a practicing lawyer.
The appropriate way to address someone with a J.D. Degree is to mention “Attorney” before his name. For example, it will be relevant to address a professional with a J.D. as- Attn: Kevin Brown, J.D., and the salutation inside the mail or letter would be Dear Mr. Brown.
How To Address a Practicing Attorney?
When we mention practicing attorneys, we are talking about those who have appeared for the state’s bar exam and passed it. In most cases, you can address an attorney just like you would be addressing any other respectable person. However, you may need to add the appropriate and formal title in professional correspondence.
Hence, while addressing a practicing attorney, you can use titles such as “Esquire” or “Attorney at law.”
However, you must remember that you must never use such titles in either letters or in person when addressing an attorney at a social level. Titles, as such only hold importance at legal status.
How To Address an Attorney On a Professional Level?
As previously mentioned, in most cases, you can address an attorney as Mr., Mrs., or Ms.
Typically, this is ideal in a situation where you have never met the attorney before. When addressing an attorney in a letter or an email, the proper salutation to use would be “Mr. or Ms.” following their surname.
This may not necessarily be the case when you have a pre-established relationship with the attorney. For instance, the attorney has already represented or advised you in a debt settlement case. In such situations, you may address him as per his preference. For example, the first time, you may have addressed him as “Mr. Brown,” and he insisted on being addressed as “Kevin” simply, i.e., on a first name basis.
Contrary to the above situation, when writing to an attorney on a legal matter, you must use either of the titles- Esquire or Attorney at Law. This is generally used only when you are communicating with the attorney regarding legal matters, for instance, a situation where he represents you.
How To Address an Attorney In an Academic Setting?
Again, when addressing an attorney in an academic setting, you may list the professional degree or degrees that the attorney holds. For instance, suppose an attorney is practicing as a professor in law and has written an article relating to law or any other field of expertise. The appropriate way to address him would be by listing his degrees. When listing the degrees, you emphasize the attorney’s credentials in a way that “Esquire” does not. Thus, it is preferable to use the title J.D. instead of Esq in such cases.
In instances where the attorney has more than one degree, you may list them after their name, in order of highest to lowest priority. For example- Kevin Brown, J.D., MBA
How To Address an Attorney In Court?
When you need to address an attorney in a court of law, you may use salutations such as Mr., Ms., Sir, or Madam. However, when you are required to address a judge in court, you must always use- Your Honor.
It can be helpful to note that judges can address each other as their learned or esteemed colleagues.
How To Address an Attorney In Social Correspondence?
In a social correspondence, when you are required to address an attorney, you can simply use salutations according to their preference, like Mr, Mrs., or Ms, and then their surname. You can use the same form to mail a letter to an attorney, although, in the letter, you address them on a first-name basis.
In cases when you know the attorney relatively well, you can even address them simply by their first and last name, eliminating the courtesy title. This is a more casual form of handling an attorney.
Another point to remember is that writing to a lawyer at a social level does not usually go by similar protocols as writing to other professions, such as a doctor. When you write to a doctor and the spouse, you typically need to mention the title and name of the doctor first and then the spouse. When writing to a lawyer and their spouse, you do not need to mention any title such as J.D. or Esq to emphasize their credibility. Additionally, you do not need to order their names in a particular order to emphasize their social ranks.
For example, if you need to address an attorney and his wife socially, you can simply use either of the following ways-
- Mr. and Mrs. Kevin Brown, or,
- Mr. and Ms. Kevin and Ella Brown
An important point to focus on when addressing female attorneys is their surname. Female attorneys do not always need to use their same name socially and professionally. Often, many married females may use their maiden name professionally but their spouse’s name on a social level. Also, many marital female attorneys may consider “Mrs.” to be outmoded. Hence, it is always better to confirm with the female attorney about her preference when writing to her.
How To Use “esquire” In The Right Way?
When you use the title Esquire to address a lawyer, you must mention the lawyer’s full name, following a comma, and then add the abbreviation- “Esq.” For example, “Kevin Brown, Esq.”
Next, in the following line, you need to mention the name of the law firm, the company, etc. Following this, you need to add the address as usual, like the street name, the city, state, and ZIP code.
Following the surname of the lawyer, you can use a salutation. For example, “Dear Mr. Brown.” However, one important point to remember here is that you must never use salutations like Mr or Ms before their name while simultaneously using the title Esq after their name.
How to Use “Attorney at Law” The Right Way?
Unlike Esquire, when you use Attorney at Law, you need to mention the lawyer’s full name along with Mr., Mrs., or Ms. In the following line, you can add the title- Attorney at Law, followed by the address in the next lines. For the name of the firm, the company, etc., follow the street name, city, state, and ZIP code.
For example, the right way to use the title is-
- Mr. Kevin Brown
- Attorney at Law
Addressing a lawyer in the right way is vitally important. They will, at the very least, be more interested in what you have to say when you address them the right way.
In most cases, you can use the titles interchangeably, although sometimes attorneys may have preferences. The attorney’s discretion may be mentioned on their business cards, websites, etc. However, it is not necessarily the case every time. Thus, it can be helpful to gather such information before approaching an attorney. However, if the attorney’s preference is unknown, you can use it.
Author bio: Lyle Solomon is a licensed attorney in California. He has been affiliated with the law firms in California, Nevada, and Arizona since 1991. As the principal attorney of Oak View Law Group, he gives advice and writes articles to help people solve their debt problems.