(This article was originally published in its French version)
In several languages, the words meaning “lawyer” are similar: in French "avocat/e", in Portuguese “advogado", in Dutch “advocaat“, in Italian "avvocato"“, in Spanish “abogado/a", in Russian “адвока́т/ а”. In France avocats were formerly an organized body of pleaders, while the preparation of cases was done by avoués. Today this distinction exists only before the French appellate courts.
In the USA a person who practices Law is called a lawyer or an attorney. As a title, only the word “attorney”, not “lawyer” is used, e.g. “Attorney Smith” (in French “Maître Smith”). If the name is not specified, the word “counsel” is used, e.g. A judge addressing an attorney: “Counsel may speak to the defendant.”
In England, there are two kinds of lawyers:
1. Barristers (called “trial attorneys” in the USA). Barristers have two professional functions: to give legal opinions and to appear in Court to represent their clients. The word originates from the days when there was a wooden bar or railing in court which marked off the area where the judge sat and the lawyer had to stand next to the bar when pleading his case. The expression “to be called to the bar” is commonly used in England to denote someone who has become qualified to act as a barrister. Although the word barrister is not used in the USA, all lawyers in America have to be members of the “bar” and to register with the Bar Association in order to practice. (The Italian word barista, pronounced similarly to "barrister", denotes a person who pours drinks at a different kind of bar.)
2. Solicitors. They handle wills and conveyancing (the transfer of property) and generally perform other legal tasks at their offices. They are not allowed to appear in Court, except in certain cases conducted in the lowest (magistrates’) courts. The work of a solicitor is roughly equivalent to that of a French “notaire”. (In the USA notaries are not lawyers. A notary’s function is to authenticate signatures, a service for which he usually charges $10.)
The offices of a barrister are called “chambers”. A person working as an apprentice (stagiaire) with a barrister is called a “pupil”, and the apprenticeship is called “pupilage”; with a solicitor he/she is called an “articled clerk” or “trainee solicitor”.
In England no-one may practice both as a barrister and an attorney. The services of a barrister are never hired directly by the client. The client hires a solicitor and the solicitor chooses a barrister when there is need for a legal opinion or for an appearance in court.
In the USA the term solicitor has nothing to do with the practice of law. It means someone who solicits his clients, from Old French solliciter (note the double “l”). The photo below, taken in California, shows a warning sign directed at street vendors. In Britain that sign would be regarded as amusing and probably offensive to solicitors practicing law. However, the verb “to solicit” is commonly used in England outside of the legal profession. For many years, prostitutes in Britain were allowed to practice their trade, but the Law prohibited them from soliciting. Thus a prostitute could stand on a street corner as long as she took no action or made no movement to solicit clients. Soliciting in this sense is a crime. (“To approach or accost someone with an offer of sexual services” – American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language).
The legal profession in countries of the British Commonwealth is sometimes structured as in Britain, but there are various different models. In Canada, New Zealand and parts of Australia, for example, a lawyer may practice both as a barrister and solicitor. In the United States no such distinction exists.
The noun “advocate” (as well as the verb “to advocate") exists in English, but it is used to describe a person who defends a cause, not as the description of a profession (except in South African English), like "avocat/e", "advogado", "avvocato", “abogado/a" or "адвока́т/а". It derives from Latin advocatus, from the past participle of advocare to summon, from ad- + vocare to call, from voc-, vox voice. Advocat came from Anglo-French and Middle English (Merriam-Webster Dictionary).
A "Devil’s Advocate" is one who presents an argument or advocates a cause, not out of commitment but merely for the sake of argument or to determine the validity of the cause or position. It derives from the Medieval Latin term advocātus diabolī (from the Latin diabolus), someone who would argue against the canonization or beatification of a saint. In Britain "The Devil's Advocate" is a regular column, with a cult following built up over the past few years appearing in several UK regional newspapers. The author, the mythical Barry Beelzebub, shares with us his wicked thoughts on the world today. For a video explanation of "Devil’s Advocate" for English learners, see:
Q: What's the difference between a good lawyer and a bad lawyer?
A: A bad lawyer can let a case drag out for several years. A good lawyer can make it last even longer.
Q: What’s the difference between a good lawyer and a great lawyer?
A: A good lawyer knows the law. A great lawyer knows the judge.
Q: What do you have when a lawyer is buried up to his neck in sand?
A: Not enough sand.
Q: How many personal injury attorneys does it take to change a light bulb?
A: Three lawyers: one to turn the bulb, one to shake him off the ladder, and the third to sue the ladder company.
Q: How can you tell when a lawyer is lying?
A: His lips are moving.