What Makes an Attorney and a Lawyer Different?

In reality, there is no difference between a lawyer and an attorney. The terms are used interchangeably in the United States to refer to a professional who practices law. However, the terms do have a historic difference.

Historically, both a lawyer and an attorney had a law degree. However, a lawyer did not pass the bar exam nor was admitted to practice. Being an attorney meant that the person met all requirements to practice law and has been issued a license to practice law by the state. 

When searching for a lawyer or an attorney to help you with a slip and fall accident, automobile accident, defective product claim, or another personal injury case, you need to verify that the attorney has been admitted to practice law in Missouri.

What Are the Missouri Eligibility Requirements to Be Admitted to the Bar?

Being “admitted to the bar” means that a person met the eligibility requirements to practice law and has been issued a license by the state. 

In Missouri, the requirements to be admitted to the bar are:

  • Receipt of an official transcript verifying that the person has obtained a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree. If the degree is from a foreign law school or non-ABA-approved law school, the applicant must meet additional requirements.
  • Pass the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE)
  • Pass the Missouri Educational Component Test (MECT) in addition to passing the Uniform Bar Examination
  • Board approval of the person’s fitness and character 
  • Verification that the person is a United States citizen, a lawfully admitted immigrant alien, or a person authorized to work in the United States lawfully

After being admitted to the bar in Missouri, an attorney must comply with specific requirements for continuing their practice of law. For instance, attorneys are required to pay an annual enrollment fee. In addition, they must complete a minimum number of hours of continuing legal education to retain their law license. Attorneys must also follow strict guidelines regarding IOLTA (client trust accounts).

Choosing a Missouri Personal Injury Attorney to Handle Your Case

Choosing an attorney to handle your personal injury case can seem overwhelming. If you Google “personal injury attorneys in Kansas City or St. Louis,” you will likely receive a long list of names and law firms. Finding the right lawyer for you may require you to meet with a few attorneys. 

When you are searching for a personal injury lawyer, keep these things in mind:

Experience

Experience matters. Ask the lawyer how many years they have been practicing personal injury law. Many talented, young attorneys understand tort law. However, some things cannot be taught in law school, but can only be learned by handling cases and appearing in court.

Types of Cases Handled 

You want to hire a lawyer who has experience handling claims similar to your claim. For example, if you were injured in a commercial truck accident, search for an attorney who has handled numerous truck accident cases. Likewise, if your claim involves a wrongful death, you would not want to hire a real estate attorney to handle the case.

It is important to remember that some personal injury attorneys limit the types of cases they handle. For example, just because a lawyer handles defective product cases does not mean that the attorney would handle a medical malpractice claim.

Fees and Costs

Ask the attorney how they are paid for their services. Most personal injury attorneys accept cases on a contingency fee basis. You do not pay any attorneys’ fees unless the attorney obtains a settlement for your claim or wins a jury verdict in your favor when the attorney represents you on a contingency fee basis. The attorneys’ fee equals a percentage of the settlement amount or verdict.

The costs of the case are a different matter. The costs of a case may include filing fees, expert fees, postage, and copy fees. Be sure to discuss how costs are paid, in addition to discussing attorneys’ fees.

Trust and Communication 

You need to communicate with your lawyer and trust that your lawyer has your best interest at heart. Meeting with an attorney is the only way to determine if you and the lawyer will be able to work together. If an attorney does all of the talking, it may not be a positive sign that the attorney will listen to you and address your concerns. 

An attorney should want to listen to the details about what happened to you and address your concerns about a personal injury case. An honest attorney will tell you that they cannot make any promises but can advise based on experience and knowledge. 

Likewise, if an attorney gives you a value for your claim during your first appointment, seek another opinion. A lawyer cannot know how much a case is worth until they complete a thorough investigation and gathers evidence. You want your lawyer to take the time to investigate your claim and explore all legal avenues for compensation.