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Attorney at law, what does that mean?

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"What does attorney at law mean?" is a common question among clients and also personal friends.  This brief video blog explains the meaning of attorney at law.

What does attorney at law mean? For those of you who’ve ever wondered why lawyer’s business card says “Attorney-At-Law” under the name, you’re not alone. This is one of those stuffy archaic gems for which we get to thank our English cousins and the legal system we adopted from them.

Seven hundred years ago, the English Courts of Law were procedurally very rigid and ill-equipped to deal with many matters that came before them. To accommodate more diversity of cases and assure a fair administration of justice, the English monarch established “Courts of Equity” to address certain matters of fairness in areas such as oral contracts, trust law, and property disputes, where the Courts of Law provided no remedy to the problem at issue.

Over time there evolved one group of attorneys who practiced before the Courts of Law and another group who practiced before Courts of Equity. These attorneys would title themselves "attorneys at law" or "attorneys-at-equity", respectively, so potential clients would know whom to approach about a matter.

While the United States had separate courts of law and courts of equity at our founding, over time most states merged the parallel courts into on court of law with general jurisdiction to hear all matters. Still, largely in deference to tradition, lawyers who are licensed to represent clients in court may still use the title “Attorney at Law” to signify this professional distinction.

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