Only a lawyer, also known an attorney, who is licensed may practice law in a given jurisdiction. What it means to “practice law” can be quite complicated, but generally it means to give legal advice or to represent a client in or out of court.

How Do I Become an Attorney?

While the requirements differ between states, generally, a lawyer must have a bachelor’s degree or equivalent, and must have graduated from an American Bar Association (ABA) accredited law school with a Juris Doctor (JD) degree. Lawyers who have gone to law school in a foreign country are usually required to obtain a Master of Laws (LL.M) before they are able to take a state bar examination.

When a person graduates law school, they do not automatically become a lawyer. Every state in the U.S. requires that a law school graduate take a bar exam before becoming licensed to practice law. These exams are long and rigorous, and test the graduate’s legal knowledge and ability to apply that knowledge to specific situations.

Additionally, a person must be found to be of good moral character before they are allowed to practice law, and must demonstrate their knowledge of legal ethics by taking a Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE).

What Can an Attorney Do?

There are several functions which only a lawyer can perform, The most common you should know are:

  • Only a lawyer is qualified to give legal advice.
  • Only a lawyer is qualified to represent a client before a court of law.

What Are Paralegals and Notary Publics?

A paralegal is not a lawyer. A paralegal is a person with some specialized legal training which allows him or her to assist lawyers in their daily tasks, such as research and writing. A “notary public” is also not a lawyer. If any of those persons offers you their services as a lawyer, you should decline immediately, and report them to the state bar.