What is a Lawyer and why some people abuse the phrase

In the UK, legal professionals are generally considered to be Solicitors or Barristers, and a general umbrella term for such professionals is ‘Lawyer‘.

A Solicitor is a person who has passed the necessary qualifying exams to practice as a solicitor, and a barrister is a person who has passed the bar exams to practice as a barrister.

Both Solicitors and Barristers can adopt the general phrase of being a ‘lawyer’ in the UK as they have the necessary skills and qualifications that make them Lawyers, using ‘The normal English meaning’ of the word (See below).

Within the field of law, the correct meanings of words are absolutely essential.  This is especially the case, for example, in criminal trials where the meaning of a word could be the difference between innocence and guilt. Any person who has started or completed a law degree will know the importance of words and their meanings, I did this concept in my first year of my Law Degree.

There can be no (or very little) ambiguity in the meanings of words, and where there may be ambiguity, directions are often made by the Court (or legislation) that relative words are interpreted by “The normal English meaning“, i.e., there is no overriding legal definition so use the English Dictionary.

So ‘Lawyer’ has no legal definition in the UK, (it does in the USA) and therefore, we must turn to the English Dictionary. (NO, not Google!)

I will refer to the Cambridge English dictionary (which I believe is authoritative)


someone whose job is to give advice to people about the law and speak for them in court.


To avoid any ambiguity, the following is taken from the Oxford English dictionary.


a person who is trained and qualified to advise people about the law and to represent them in court, and to write legal documents


** My empashis in both of the above


Breaking this down further, a Lawyer is

someone whose job it is to give advice to people about the law, AND

Speak for them/Represent them in Court.


That is it, that is the definition.  So, if it is your job to give legal advice, and that job involves speaking or representing your client in Court, you are a Lawyer.

But wait…

What if you make it your job to give someone legal advice, does that make you a Lawyer?

No, of course not, as anyone who takes an arbitrary payment from someone for giving advice would claim to be a Lawer.  There are other phases that can be used, such as ‘McKenzie Friend’ or simply legal advisor, but while the phrase Lawyer does not have a legal definition, it has a normal English meaning.

If I said, “give me a £1 and I will tell you a rule in law“, would it be reasonable for me to create a website and advertise myself as a lawyer?

I think most reasonable people would see that as being a fraud.  Telling someone that you are a Lawyer implies you can do what a Lawyer is defined to be able to do.  Unless you can speak for, or represent someone in court, then it could be argued a fraudulent attempt to pass off as something you are not.

This now opens another Pandora’s box, because you need to rationalise the second part and ask yourself, “Can you speak for someone in Court

The answer to this is simply, NO.

Well, not unless you have ‘a right of audience‘, and for that, you need specific legal privileges that in the main come from being a current practising Solicitor or Barrister.



Hankey v. Clavering [1942] 2 K.B. 326

It is of course true that the law is not concerned with the speaker’s subjective intentions. But the notion that the law’s concern is therefore with the “meaning of his words” conceals an important ambiguity. The ambiguity lies in a failure to distinguish between the meanings of words and the question of what would be understood as the meaning of a person who uses words. The meaning of words, as they would appear in a dictionary, and the effect of their syntactical arrangement, as it would appear in a grammar, is part of the material which we use to understand a speaker’s utterance. But it is only a part; another part is our knowledge of the background against which the utterance was made. It is that background which enables us, not only to choose the intended meaning when a word has more than one dictionary meaning but also, in the ways I have explained, to understand a speaker’s meaning, often without ambiguity, when he has used the wrong words.

When, therefore, lawyers say that they are concerned, not with subjective meaning but with the meaning of the language which the speaker has used, what they mean is that they are concerned with what he would objectively have been understood to mean. This involves examining not only the words and the grammar but the background as well….


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