The words lawyer and attorney have become interchangeable in modern English. To some degree, it makes sense that the terms have become synonyms. For one, both the term lawyer and the term attorney refer to a person who has graduated from law school. 

There is, however, one significant difference between a lawyer and an attorney. While a lawyer has graduated from law school, they are not licensed to practice law. 

To be sure, a law degree is still useful and there are many who see it being even more valuable than an MBA. Many individuals with law degrees work in a number of different sectors, from business and education to law enforcement and nonprofits. While all of those people can say they are lawyers, they cannot say they are attorneys.

An attorney, in addition to graduating from law school, has passed the bar exam and been admitted to the bar of a state. They have kept up their license and met all other requirements laid out by their state’s bar association. 

Furthermore, an attorney is legally able to execute contracts, file lawsuits, and represent individuals in the court of law. Those jobs alone make the difference between a lawyer and an attorney quite significant.

How to Be Admitted to the Bar in Texas

The Texas Board of Law Examiners (BLE) is the entity tasked with administering the state bar exam and determining which individuals have met the requirements for passage. The Texas Supreme Court has outlined strict rules for becoming a licensed attorney in the state, and the (BLE) vets each applicant to make sure they are eligible.

The most common way attorneys are licensed in Texas is by passing the state bar exam. The exam is offered in February and July and takes more than two days to complete. 

Every year, around 3,000 law school graduates from the state’s ten law schools, as well as out-of-state graduates, take the Texas bar exam. The overall pass rate for the February 2020 exam was around 45 percent while the overall pass rate from the July 2019 exam was just over 68 percent.

In addition to passing the exam, applicants need to fulfill the bar’s moral character and fitness requirement as well. This requirement relates to the applicant’s history and examines whether or not they have a criminal record.

Alternative Method of Admission

It is possible for some applicants to be admitted to the Texas bar even if they have not taken the Texas bar exam. The requirements for those applicants include:

  • They need to have graduated from an accredited law school
  • They need to be licensed to practice law in another state
  • Finally, the need to have been working as an attorney in another state for 5 of the 7 years preceding the application

If an applicant meets all of those requirements, they can apply to be admitted to the Texas bar and begin practicing law once their application is approved. Until it is approved, in the eyes of the state, they would be considered a lawyer, but not an attorney, and thus not able to represent clients in the court of law.

Lastly, in order for a Texas attorney to keep their license to practice law current, they need to complete 15 hours of continuing legal education (CLE) each year. The Texas Bar has strict rules about what qualifies as a CLE and how to report them. 

Do I Need a Lawyer or an Attorney If I’m Charged With a Crime?

An attorney. While lawyers can offer some guidance and clarification about your criminal charges, they can’t represent you or defend you in a court of law. That right is reserved for attorneys.

So, if you’re facing criminal charges for domestic violence, a sex offense, or DWI, it is important to enlist the aid of a qualified defense attorney. Similarly if your child is facing juvenile criminal charges, you’ll want an attorney who knows the juvenile criminal justice system inside and out.