Could a potential attorney be admitted to the bar if they have a criminal conviction?

It is generally recommended that you commit your felonies AFTER being admitted to the bar. Afterwards, you might be disbarredfor a felony, but you can usually get back in…after a few years. It could be argued that a felon-lawyer is a better lawyer (for the added experience).:smiley:

Actually, in New York, I’d say the reverse is true. Conviction of a felony is an automatic disbarment, and the court system is not particularly inclined to readmit disbarred felons. On the other hand, if you’ve been convicted and done your time, you can get admitted to the New York bar, particularly if you’ve shown that you’ve changed your life and reformed.

Concur in Ohio.

I’m not quite sure about it. To my mind, one has to be ‘admitted to the Bar’ in order to be ‘a lawyer’. It is definitely so in my country, in the UK, too and in most countries. In the US, I’m not quite sure.

The latter ‘bar’ here should begin with a capital - like this - ‘Bar’.

Merriam-Webster Online: Lawyer - “one whose profession is to conduct lawsuits for clients or to advise as to legal rights and obligations in other matters”

Merriam-Webster Online: attorney-at-law - “: a practitioner in a court of law who is legally qualified to prosecute and defend actions in such court on the retainer of clients”

ANYONE can hold themselves out as someone who advises as to legal rights and obligations. Certainly, having been trained as a lawyer, one could assert that, should I choose to do that business, I’m a lawyer.

Of course, if you do it without having been admitted to the bar, you will be penalized for having practised law without a license. So, in practical effect, a lawyer is almost always an attorney-at-law somewhere. But I would argue that, for example, here in South Carolina, I would be a lawyer if I was still practicing, but I would not be able to be an attorney-at-law here unless I was admitted to the bar here; I’d be limited to being an attorney in California, and certain federal courts.

Another example has to do with lawyers for corporations. If I’m hired by XYZ Corp. to offer them legal advice and draw up legal documents, but not to represent them in court, I’m being a lawyer. I don’t need to be admitted to the bar to do this, thus I wouldn’t necessarily be an attorney-at-law, nor would I be XYZ’s attorney.

I may be misreading your post here, but terms like these have legal definitions that vary from the dictionary definitions, for example:

So, while you do might meet the dictionary definition, you couldn’t call yourself a lawyer without licensure, at least in some jurisdictions.

I think that might be the distinction you were trying to draw, and if so, well, then never mind.

Correct this, please. It’s my understanding that the occupation you Dopers-at-Law have in common is “lawyer.” The term “attorney” normally describes a relationship – if I pay you to give me legal advice or represent me in a legal transaction (You agreeing to the proposition, of course), you have become my attorney, and I am your client. You’re a lawyer to everyone; you’re an attorney only to your clients.

However, people who make a living functioning as an attorney at law to others will sometimes describe what they do, their practice, as “attorney-at-law” in the sense that how they earn their living is as acting as attorney for others. So the distinction between the two terms sometimes gets blurred.

(Note in passing the idea of “attorney-in-fact,” which is simply any person who has received a power of attorney from another person, enabling the AIF to act in the other person’s stead as specified in the Power of Attorney’s language. This has little or nothing to do with legal representation or advice but always gets brought up.)

Finally, a question: some lawyers refer to themselves as “Attorney and Counselor at Law”. Does this have any significance other than the size of the lawyer’s ego? Might, for example, DSYoung. who’s quit practicing, occasionally give legal counsel on something he’s an expert on without actually practicing as an attorney?

Yes, pretty much. :smiley:

And I will note that even in California, there appears to be a requirement that you be doing your actions for a client. As an employee for a company, for example, you wouldn’t have that company as your client. So, unless there is some case on point, it would appear that a person who is an employee can perform activities that would otherwise be “practicing law” if done for a client, without being licensed. In which case, they would be a lawyer, even if they couldn’t hold themselves out as being one.

I believe there are states that assert that employees doing things lawyers do for clients must be licensed. But I’ve also had people I knew in law school who failed to pass the bar get jobs of this nature.

@ Polycarp: In California, no, you cannot just advise or counsel on legal matters; that’s practicing law. See the helpful and exhaustive pdf Gfactor linked.

When I was a new attorney, I worked for a PI lawyer. My state legislature had proposed some tort reform legislation, and as low man on the totem pole, I was assigned to go sit at a phone bank in another lawyer’s office and make cold calls to other lawyers for donations to the Trial Lawyers’ Association, to build a war chest to oppose the law (which passed anyway). Some of the other guys who were there were the sort who had tv ads. One of the guys began each call with “Hello, this is attorney Joe Smith from the Trial Lawyers’ association.”

While my story may not have a clear point, it does show the variation in usage.

To respond more directly. I don’t think that distinction is clear. Most lawyers use the terms interchangeably.

Regarding “counselor,” I’m not sure of the derivation, but the term “counsel” is used more like you describe the usage of attorney. When applied to a lawyer, it usually means the lawyer is representing someone: defense counsel, in-house counsel, counsel for x.


Might, for example, DSYoung. who’s quit practicing, occasionally give legal counsel on something he’s an expert on without actually practicing as an attorney?
The word isn’t the difference, if you get what I’m saying. In some jurisdictions, DS might be able to interpret laws or regulations for his employer withouth getting in trouble for unauthorized practice. But it’s got little to do with whether what he is doing is “counseling” or “giving legal advice.” It has to do with whether whatever he’s doing meets the definition of practicing law.

Yeah. It can get tricky depending on the jurisdiciton. I’m a member of an association of compliance officers, for example. Many of the members are non-lawyers, and many of the job openings I see don’t require a license. There is usually a lawyer somewhere up the food chain at the company, but the job description typically has them interpreting, applying, and auditing compliance with lending laws and regulations.

For more detail (and lots of waffling) on the issue of whether in-house counsel may advise their employers about the law of states in which they are not admitted to practice, see: Welcome -

As always, it depends on the jurisdiction. Here in Saskatchewan, I am a lawyer, with the technical title of “barrister and solicitor,” which is a hold-over from the divided profession in England. When we want to indicate that we are acting for a particular person, we use the term “counsel”, as in “Jane Smith, counsel for Zed Corp.” Judges also use “counsel” as a nice gender-neutral collective term to refer to the lawyers appearing in front of them: “Counsel, I think we’ll adjourn until 1.30.”

We don’t use the terms “attorney” to describe ourselves, nor “counsellor,” and don’t refer to each other as “esquire.”

In addition, only members of the Law Society of Saskatchewan can use most of these terms to describe themselves, as set out in The Legal Profession Act, 1990:

Thus, to respond to DSYoungEsq’s comments about the term “lawyer”, I’m sure he’s right about the usage of the term in his jurisdiction, but it would not be correct in my jurisdiction. Only a member of the Law Society can describe themselves as a lawyer here.

I know a fellow who’s admitted in Florida, Georgia and Missouri, and was convicted in 1992 of impregnating a minor under 16 in Florida. He was suspended during his (shockingly brief) incarceration and reinstated more or less immediately upon his release in Florida and Missouri.

As a practical matter, although there is the historical distinction you mention, there is no difference in real world usage between the term “attorney” and “lawyer,” except perhaps that the term “attorney” is a bit more formal.

Yes, I have been admitted to the bar of the State of New York as an Attorney and Counselor at Law, and may call myself either (or both, though both is a bit much). This is another historical distinction, as at one point long, long ago, New York had two classifications of lawyers, counselors who would appear before the higher courts and attorneys who could not, something similar to the English law distinction between barristers and solicitors. The two classifications have since been merged, but our bar admissions still specify that we are both attorneys and counselors.