Lawyer vs. Attorney
An attorney is a professionally qualified, highly educated, and regulated legal professional who works in a law firm. Anyone can call themselves a lawyer and provide legal advice through a law firm, for example. The main difference between an attorney and a lawyer is in the quality of their work, the correctness of their legal advice, and their professional credentials. An attorney is a regulated professional title with strict educational requirements. The education, work, and legal knowledge of an attorney are monitored and verified. If a person no longer meets the high standards set for attorneys, the bar association will revoke their license, and they will lose the right to call themselves an attorney. However, attorneys who have been disbarred can still work as lawyers since the profession of a lawyer is not regulated, and lawyers are not subject to quality control (e.g., Robert Sarv continues to work as a lawyer after being disbarred).
What is the difference between a lawyer and an attorney?
Attorneys are held to high national standards. Attorneys must have a master's degree and pass a 3-tiered exam before receiving their professional title. Attorneys must continuously improve and keep up-to-date with the latest principles of law. Attorneys are overseen by both the law firm and the Estonian Bar Association. Attorneys are covered by professional liability insurance, so clients can be sure that any damages will be compensated in case of any mistakes. Attorneys also have personal liability for their clients. An attorney risks losing their professional title and having to pay damages for providing poor advice or any other misconduct. Therefore, an attorney is highly motivated to always provide the best legal advice. In addition, attorneys must follow a code of ethics in their work. Compliance with the code of ethics is mandatory. For example, the attorney must prioritize the client's interests over their own. With all the above requirements and circumstances combined, clients can be sure that the attorney is competent and provides professional and quality legal advice.
On the other hand, a lawyer doesn't necessarily have to have studied law. They don't even need to have a higher education. Anyone can call themselves a lawyer. The work of a lawyer is not subject to national control, and lawyers are not obligated to keep up with changes in the legal landscape. Lawyers are usually not personally liable to their clients. A lawyer cannot lose their professional title since it is not a protected title. Lawyers are not subject to any rules or ethical codes that would guide their work, behavior, or other activities. Therefore, the legal advice given by a lawyer may not be of high quality or even correct.
When to choose an attorney?
It is advisable to choose an attorney to represent or advise oneself when important rights, assets, or when it is necessary to ensure that the legal advice received is correct. For example, corporate documentation, litigation, personal rights, criminal proceedings, etc. By using an attorney's services, the client can be sure that they are receiving the best and highest quality legal advice by choosing a good law firm. Using lawyers makes sense in simpler legal matters. For example, in the bureaucracy of communication with the state, where legal documents may seem complicated to an ordinary person. Also, in smaller legal advice matters, where an ordinary person may not be familiar with the system and may want to ask for recommendations or an introductory presentation of the field from someone who deals with the matter.
Communication with an attorney is protected by confidentiality
Communication with an attorney is always confidential and protected. It is protected both from third parties and from the state. For example, if criminal proceedings are being conducted against a person and their home is being searched, investigators cannot view or take communications with the person's attorney. Similarly, listening in on phone calls with attorneys is also protected.
Recently, there has been an increase in searches of attorneys offices. This may raise the question for clients as to whether confidentiality is actually protected. The Bar Association is actively working to ensure that confidentiality is protected in attorneys offices. During any search of an attorneys office, a representative of the bar association is present to ensure maximum protection of confidentiality and proper action. Although recent media coverage may suggest otherwise, in reality, these situations are very exceptional, and confidentiality is guaranteed at a high level.
Attorney vs. lawyer hourly rate
The hourly rate for attorneys is usually slightly higher than the hourly rate for lawyers. The difference can be about 20%. For simpler and smaller matters, it makes sense to save money and choose the services of a lawyer. In more important and larger disputes, the 20% price difference can end up costing much more if cheaper legal advice is not adequate. By relying on low-quality legal advice, you may unknowingly expose yourself to liability for damages that were not intended to be caused. In the worst case, criminal liability may follow. Therefore, a slightly cheaper price may not be worth it if the service is not of high quality and verified. There are also lawyers who provide high-quality and high-level services on the market. Recognizing them is almost impossible for an ordinary client, as each law firm advertises itself accordingly. In the case of attorneys offices, quality control and supervision are carried out by the state. Therefore, clients can be sure of the quality of the attorneys office and the attorney.