Attorney-At-Law Details

An attorney-at-law—or simply attorney—represents another person or persons before a court of law while also providing them legal advice. For an attorney to become licensed, they must meet their state’s specific requirements and have graduated from an American Bar Association (ABA) accredited law school with a Juris Doctor degree. After that, an aspiring attorney must then pass their state’s bar exam where their legal knowledge is thoroughly tested in highly specific situations. Should they pass this stage, aspiring attorneys are next subjected to a background review by their state’s bar association to determine whether their moral character is in good standing. Finally, they are permitted to practice law within the state.

Attorneys cover a wide range of legal disputes, including criminal law, business law, personal injury law, bankruptcy law, intellectual property law, and more. However, many attorneys specialize in one area or another, so clients need to research an attorney’s area of expertise before hiring their costly services.

Several terms are closely related to attorney-at-law, which, though sometimes used synonymously, have distinct definitions. A “paralegal” is someone who works on behalf of an attorney, often assisting them with research and writing. A “notary public” is someone who authenticates legal documents such as wills, contracts, and deeds in need of certification. A “lawyer” is the term most closely related to that of an attorney. The key difference is that an attorney is licensed to practice in a court whereas lawyers have yet to pass the bar. As such, lawyers are permitted only to offer clients legal advice outside of court.

Real-World Example of Attorney-At-Law

One particularly notable example of an attorney-at-law is the late celebrity attorney F. Lee Baily who represented O.J. Simpson and Patricia Hearst. According to The Star, in over four decades of providing legal services, Baily was viewed as both egocentric and contemptuous of authority. He was also bold, brilliant, meticulous, and tireless in his clients’ defense. Baily rose to celebrity status following his legal defense of Simpson, a former NFL star running back acquitted on charges that he killed his wife and her friend in 1995.

“In many respects, he was the model of what a criminal defense attorney should be in terms of preparation and investigation,” said Kenneth Fishman, Baily’s long-time former law partner. However, following Patricia Hearst’s conviction after Baily claimed the publishing heiress was coerced into participating in armed robberies with a terrorist group in 1974, Hearst said Baily was an “ineffective counsel.” He had reduced the trial to “a mockery, a farce, and a sham.”

Baily’s tendency to antagonize authorities led him to be disbarred in New Jersey, Florida, and Massachusetts. And although he passed the exam in Maine in 2013, Baily was still barred from practicing law within the state. “The legal profession is a business with a tremendous collection of egos,” Baily said during an interview. “Few people who are not strong egotistically gravitate to it.”