Why don't lawyers have titles?

In the US and Canada physicians & surgeons graduate with the degree ofMedicinæ Doctor, and they are addressed as Dr.. In the US lawyers graduate with the degree of Juris Doctor but they aren’t called Dr.. Neither degree is a doctorate they’re both first professional degrees so why aren’t lawyers called Dr.? I’ve also seen the abbreviation Atty. on forms along with Mr/Mrs/Ms/Miss/Dr. I assume that means Attorney but I’ve never heard lawyers addressed as that?

You sometimes see attorneys listed as “John Jones, Esq.” Esquire is the traditional, though infrequently used honorific for lawyers.

I’ve seen “Esq.” placed at the end of lawyer’s names a lot, but I don’t think that’s a formal thing.

Why do lawyers need a title? I’ve got an MBA, but don’t feel the need for a title to recognize my special status. If it was really necessary for someone to know of my superior qualifitions in all business matters, then I’d sign my name “JerH, MBA” the way folks do for professional certifications. (My sister’s business cards say “SisterH, MBA, PE” for her MBA and engineering certification.) Lawyers can do the same thing - put the aforementioned “Esq.” or a “JD” after their names.

my superior qualifitions


Though my qualifications apparently don’t include superior spelling ability.

Attorney John Jones
John Jones, Esq.

Both are pretty common.

In France they use “mettre.”

In every State I know of “PE” is a protected designation and it’s not legal to call yourself a “Professional Engineer”. Whereas you can call yourself an “MBA” all day long. So listing that one is a PE is a valid informative to have on a business card.

However, I list my advanced Engineering degree next to my PE on my business card, for the sole reason that I worked hard for a very difficult degree, doing it at night and on weekends while working a more than full-time job, and I’m proud of it.

Part of it has to do with the fact that lawyers in the U.S. don’t all have the same academic degree (or one at all, necessarily), and many with a legal degree are not members of the bar.

Virtually all medical doctors have an M.D. degree, and dentists have D.D.S. or D.M.D. degrees, both doctoral-level degrees. They are both addressed by the honorific “Dr.”

Originally in the U.S., one did not need to have an academic degree to become a lawyer, you could “read for the bar” (e.g. Abraham Lincoln). To a very limited extent, this is still true. For example, in New York if you pass the first year of an accredited law school, and have four years of practical experience clerking in a law firm, you can sit for the bar exam and be admitted to the bar.

When law schools became common, they began awarding the LL.B. (Bachelor of Laws) degree, perhaps because an undergraduate bachelors was not required at that time (it is now for accredited law schools).

Sometime in around the 1950’s, some clever lawyer realized that the federal government paid more for people with doctoral degrees than those with bachelor’s degrees, and over a relatively short period of time the law schools changed the degrees they awarded to J.D. (Juris Doctor). The advanced law degrees that are awarded by some law schools are still LL.M. (Master of Laws) and either LL.D. (Doctor of Laws) or S.J.D. (Doctor of Juridical Science), creating the anomaly that you get a doctoral degree before a masters.

By the time this change happened, lawyers were not traditionally addressed as Dr. in the U.S. (though in many European countries lawyers are addressed as Dr.). Besides, addressing lawyers with doctoral degrees as Dr. would be odd as most of the senior lawyers would not have doctoral degrees.

Although this varies a bit regionally, the most common ways attorneys are addressed in writing is as Billdo, Esq. or Attorney Billdo. Orally, it is almost always Mr. Billdo (or Ms. Billdo, were I a Ms.). For the use of “Esq.” please see this staff report. I’ve never seen Esq. used with any other designations, but I suppose it could be done.

As to other designations, many of the are desgnations of state-regulated professional titles like P.E., C.P.A. or R.N. Some people list academic degrees such as M.B.A. or Ph.D. Others list titles or qualifications from professional organizations like C.F.P., A.I.A.

Note that if you use a designation after someone’s name, you should not use a honorific before. It is never Dr. Smith, M.D. Use one or the other.

I’ve been trying to get my wife to call me “Master” since graduation. 15 years and counting.

On page 105 of Bill Walsh’s book Lapsing Into a Comma, he notes the following distinction (which might be solely American) between “attorney” and “lawyer”:

So it seems to me that, at least in the States, using “attorney” as a title would be incorrect.

“Mettre” is the French verb for “to place”.

The honorific for a lawyer in France and Quebec is “Maître” (“Master”). It’s pronounced very similarly to “mettre”, but not quite - the “aî” sounds a bit different from the “e”.

For an elaborate, heated discussion on the use of “Esquire” by lawyers and others, see this thread: Use of ‘Esquire’ illegal?, which is a comment on the Staff Report that Billdo linked to - but I should warn you, it’s the most Pit-like thread on a Staff Report ever! Dex had to intervene a couple of times, and one of the participants got banned a short time afterwards - don’t know if there was a causal relationship.

They also address lawyers in the courtroom as “Counselor,” at least in the movies.

/I got nothing.

So are avocats féminin in France & Québec addressed as Maîtresse* ie Mistress?

No, “maître” is used for all, as far as I can remember.

Do you have a cite for this? I’ve seen it mentioned in several threads about the degree given by law schools but I don’t recall ever seeing documentary support for it.


Speaking as a lawyer, I disagree with this definition.

A “lawyer” is someone who is licensed to practise law. Just because you have a law degree doesn’t mean you’re a lawyer.

An “attorney” is a representative, a deputy, or an agent. An “attorney at law” is someone’s lawyer.

I was under the impression that it’s illegal to practice law in the U.S. without being licensed to do so, and that, in most places in the U.S., licensing requires that you have the appropriate education.

Is that not the case?

P.S. I’ve worked in several law firms, and have always taken it for granted that, in order to practice any sort of law, you must have the appropriate education and proper licensing to do so. It never occurred to me that it was anything other than illegal not to have some sort of degree and license. But I’ve been wrong many, many times before. :smiley:

In the old days one had to work in a law office for a set period of time as a clerk (or apprentice?) to learn law the one could read for the bar, which usuallt ment an oral exam before a panel. The first law shools were originaly meant to supplment what one learn on the job but eventualy started offering degrees and states let bar applicants subsitute that for practical experiance. By WWI (I think?) that was the dominant way of becoming a lawyer. A few states probally still have the old laws on the book that let you do that.

Boy, think of the false advertising possibilities, John Jones, Bachelor.

Not necessarily such old days, either. In Middlesex County, Massachusetts (which includes Cambridge, Lowell, and most Boston suburbs to the north and west), it was still legal to take the bar after “reading law” as you described, in the late 70s. Since that was just 25 years ago, there are probably still practicing lawyers here whose formal institutional education may have ended with high school (though they wouldn’t be common; few lawyers passed the bar in the 1970s by this route).

The requirements for this type of “apprenticeship” included a formal sponsorship, typically agreed by the lawyer before you began you quifying term of work, and a letter of recommendation by the lawyer (and ideally others) to the county bar association before you took the bar Just working the requisite number of years for a lawyer wasn’t enough to qualify you to take the bar exam.

By the end of that era. few Middlesex lawyers would even consider a sponsorship, and even those would be hesitant to write the recommendation unless they regarded your work very highly. You’d be very much at their mercy. In the worst case, it could involve all the lose-it-all “hostaging” and politics of making partner at a large law firm, but at a much lower level.