A person admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction and authorized to perform criminal and civil legal functions on behalf of clients. These functions include providing legal counsel, drafting legal documents, and representing clients before courts, administrative agencies, and other tribunals.
Unless a contrary meaning is plainly indicated this term is synonymous with "attorney at law,""lawyer," or "counselor at law."
In order to become an attorney, a person must obtain a Juris Doctor degree from an accredited law school, although this requirement may vary in some states. Attendance at law school usually entails three years of full-time study, or four years of study in evening classes, where available. A bachelor's degree is generally a prerequisite to admission to law school.
With few exceptions, a person must pass the bar examination of that state in order to be admitted to practice law there. After passing a bar examination and practicing law for a specified period, a person may be admitted to the bars of other states, pursuant to their own court rules.
Although an attorney might be required by law to render some services PRO BONO (free of charge), the individual is ordinarily entitled to compensation for the reasonable value of services performed. He or she has a right, called an attorney's lien, to retain the property or money of a client until payment has been received for all services. An attorney must generally obtain court permission to discontinue representation of a client during the course of a trial or criminal proceedings.
Certain discourse between attorney and client is protected by the ATTORNEY-CLIENT PRIVILEGE. In the law of evidence, the client can refuse to divulge and prohibit anyone else from disclosing confidential communications transmitted to and from the attorney. Notwithstanding, attorneys are permitted to make general (non-privileged) pre-trial statements to the press if there is a "reasonable likelihood" that the statements will not interfere with a fair trial or otherwise prejudice the due administration of justice (In re Morrissey, 168 F.3d 134 [4th Cir. 1999]).