Counsel may approach
On being asked who was a gentleman who had just quitted a party, Samuel Johnson answered that, though he hesitated to speak ill of any man behind his back, he believed the gentleman was an attorney.
While I was sleeping, exchanges were multiplying on Twitter between @The_CopyEditor and others about the lawyer/attorney distinction. I can offer a simple solution: Don’t bother.
Garner’s Modern American Usage points out that though an attorney may not be a lawyer but simply someone acting on behalf of another, in practice the two terms “are not generally distinguished even by members of the legal profession.” Theodore Bernstein, Garner says, tried to make the distinction that a lawyer is an attorney only when working on behalf of a client — a distinction “rarely, if ever, observed in practice.”
Since Mr. Garner is also the editor-in-chief of Black’s Law Dictionary and author of several books on law and legal language, I’m content to take his views as representing settled usage. And even the Associated Press Stylebook has twigged* to the circumstance that “[i]n common usage the words are interchangeable.”
I have known copy editors who would mark up proofs to change lawyer to attorney, and others who would mark proofs to change attorney to lawyer. There may still be places where this kind of pointless, graph-hooking** triviality may count as editing, but I hope not.
Tomorrow, if I feel strong enough, I may return to convince and persuade.
*Twig (v.) is another of those handy British usages. It means “to suddenly realize,” with the implication that one has previously been a little thick.
**In olden times, little ones, a copy editor would take his pencil and mark the beginning of each paragraph with a symbol like a capital L so that the typesetter would know to indent that line. The symbol was called a graph hook or graf hook. A copy editor who turned in a text with nothing on it but the graph hooks was called a graph hooker — that is, a lazy employee who evidenced only the appearance of editing.