Attorney at law or attorney-at-law, usually abbreviated in everyday speech to attorney, is the preferred term for a practising lawyer in certain jurisdictions, including South Africa (for certain lawyers), Sri Lanka, and the United States. In Canada, it is used only in Quebec as the English term for avocat. The term has its roots in the verb to attorn, meaning to transfer one's rights and obligations to another.
Previous usage in Ireland and Britain
The term was previously used in England and Wales and Ireland for lawyers who practised in the common law courts. They were officers of the courts and were under judicial supervision. Attorneys did not generally actually appear as advocates in the higher courts, a role reserved (as it still usually is) for barristers. Solicitors, those lawyers who practised in the courts of equity, were considered to be more respectable than attorneys and by the mid-19th century many attorneys were calling themselves solicitors.
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- A. H. Manchester, A Modern Legal History of England and Wales, 1750–1850, Butterworths: London, 1980.
- Supreme Court of Judicature Act 1873, s 87; Supreme Court of Judicature Act (Ireland) 1877, s 78; Jowitt's Dictionary of English Law 3rd edition, London: Thomson Reuters (Legal) Limited 2010, p. 190
- The Solicitors Act 1974, section 89(6) as read with section 87(1)
- Judicature (Northern Ireland) Act 1978, section 105(2)
- The Solicitors Act 1954, section 84