ATTORNEY (from O. Fr. atorné, a person appointed to act for another, from atourner, legal Lat. attornare, attorn, literally to turn over to another or commit business to another), in English law, in its widest sense, any substitute or agent appointed to act in "the turn, stead or place of another." Attorneys are of two kinds, attorneys-in-fact and attorneys-at-law. An attorney-in-fact is simply an agent, the extent of whose capacity to act is bounded only by the powers embodied in his authority, his power of attorney. An attorney-at-law was a public officer, conducting legal proceedings on behalf of others, known as his clients, and attached to the supreme courts of common law at Westminster. Attorneys-at-law corresponded to the solicitors of the courts of chancery and the proctors of the admiralty, ecclesiastical, probate and divorce courts. Since the passing of the Judicature Act of 1873, however, the designation "attorney" has become obsolete in England, all persons admitted as solicitors, attorneys or proctors of an English court being henceforth called "solicitors of the supreme court" (see Solicitor).
In the United States an attorney-at-law exercises all the functions distributed in England between barristers, attorneys and solicitors, and his full title is "attorney and counsellor-at-law." When acting in a court of admiralty he is styled "proctor" or "advocate." Formerly, in some states, there existed a grade among lawyers of attorneys-at-law, which was inferior to that of counsellors-at-law, and in colonial times New Jersey established a higher rank still - that of serjeant-at-law. Now the term attorney-at-law is precisely equivalent to that of lawyer. Attorneys are admitted by some court to which the legislature confides the power, and on examination prescribed by the court, or by a board of state examiners, as the case may be. The term of study required is generally two or three years, but in some states less. In one no examination is required. College graduates are often admitted to examination after a shorter term of study than that required from those not so educated. In the courts of the United States, admission is regulated by rules of court and based upon a previous admission to the state bar. In almost all states aliens are not admitted as attorneys, and in many states women are ineligible, but during recent years several states have passed statutes permitting them to practise. Since 1879 women have been eligible to practise before the U.S. Supreme Court, if already admitted to practise in some state court, under the same conditions as men. A state attorney or district attorney is the local public prosecutor. He is either elected by popular vote at the state elections for the district in which he resides and goes out of office with the political party for which he was elected, or he is appointed by the governor of the state for that district and for the same term. He represents the state in criminal prosecutions and also in civil actions within his district. There is a United States district attorney in each federal district, similarly representing the federal government before the courts.
An attorney is an officer of the court which admits him to practise, and he is subject to its discipline. He is liable to his client in damages for failure to exercise ordinary care and skill, and he can bring action for the value of his services. He has a lien on his client's papers, and usually on any judgment in favour of his client to secure the payment of his fees. (See also under Bar, The.)
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)