attorney, agent put in place of another to manage particular affairs of the principal. An attorney in fact is an agent who conducts business under authority that is controlled and limited by a written document called a letter, or power, of attorney granted by the principal. An attorney at law is an officer of a court of law authorized to represent the person employing him (the client) in legal proceedings. England retains the distinction between the attorney as agent, the solicitor, who deals directly with the client but does not act as an advocate in court, and the attorney as pleader, the barrister (called advocate in Scotland), who presents the case in court. Most senior and distinguished barristers are designated King's (Queen's) counsel. The distinction between agent and pleader also exists in Europe. In the United States, a similar distinction was formerly made in some states between a counselor at law, who argued the case in court, and an attorney, who prepared the case but did not argue it; but that distinction has now generally disappeared. Today an attorney at law is authorized to exercise all the functions of a practicing lawyer. The growth of large business corporations, beginning in the 19th cent., has brought into existence a large group of attorneys who rarely or never act as trial lawyers yet are among the most influential members of the profession. They work directly for corporations or are members of large law firms and specialize in areas of commercial law. All of them must, however, like the ordinary attorney, be admitted to the bar. The term attorney is also used for county, state, and federal prosecuting officers, as county attorney, district attorney, and attorney general (see Justice, United States Department of).
See M. Mayer, Lawyers (1967); K. L. Hall, ed., The Legal Profession (1987).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.