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A person to whom authority has been turned over or transferred to act for another. If the authority is conferred by a letter or power of attorney, he is called an attorney in fact, or an agent (q.v.). If he is authorized by law to represent persons employing him in legal proceedings, he is called an attorney at law.

In the latter sense, it was confined in England, until recently, to lawyers practicing in the common law courts. Those practicing in equity courts were called solicitors, while admiralty lawyers were known as proctors. The Judicature Act of 1873 declared that all persons theretofore admitted as attorneys, solicitors, or proctors should be called solicitors of the Supreme Court, and that all persons thereafter admitted should have the same name. Accordingly, attorney at law is an obsolete term in England.

In this country, on the other hand, it is used as the general designation of the practicing layer, without regard to the court in which he exercises his functions, and without regard to the nature of those functions, whether they are those performed, on the one hand, by the English attorney, solicitor, and proctor, or, on the other, by the barrister, counsel, and advocate. The qualifications of an attorney at law, and the mode of his admission to the bar, are fixed by statutes and by court rules. He is required, generally, to pursue a course of study, either in a law school or in the office of a practicing lawyer, to pass an examination, and to present credentials of a good moral character. His admission is by an order of the court, which has the force of a judicial determination of his fitness and of his authority as an attorney and counselor.

Upon this determination he becomes an officer of the court, subject to its control, and responsible to it for misconduct. He is not a public official, nor is he the possessor of a mere favor or indulgence, revocable at the pleasure of the court or of the Legislature. The order of the court admitting him as an attorney clothes him with a right, which can be taken from him only by a judgment of the court, after an opportunity to be heard, for moral or professional delinquency. As a rule, only citizens, who have attained the age of 21 years, are admitted to the bar. In some states women are declared ineligible as attorneys at law; but the present tendency in this country is to hold them eligible. It is usual for State and Federal courts to admit to their bar, without an examination or formal certificate of character , persons who have practiced as attorneys of the highest courts of their respective States for three years or more.

Upon admission, the attorney is required to take an oath that he will demean himself, as an attorney and counselor of the court, uprightly and according to law, and that he will support the constitution of the State and of the United States. Toward his client, the attorney stands in a fiduciary position. The client confides in him, and he is bound not to betray this confidence, but to observe the utmost good faith in all matters connected with their relations. More-over, he is bound to use reasonable care and skill in giving advice to his client, and in conducting legal proceedings in his behalf. He is entitled to reimbursement by his client for all proper expenditures on the latter's behalf, and to a fair compensation for his services, in the absence of a special agreement on that point. The better to secure him in this right, the law accords him a lien on the client's papers or property which come into his possession in his professional capacity.

While an attorney is bound to his client to act with all reasonable skill and zeal in advancing the latter's interests, he is also under a duty toward third persons to act lawfully. No amount of zeal in his client's behalf will justify him in engaging, knowingly, in an unlawful act, such, for example, as instituting a suit which he knows is malicious and without probable cause. In conducting a litigation, he may take a good deal of latitude; he may say much which is derogatory to the reputation of others; but, in this country, his remarks are not absolutely privileged; they must be pertinent to the subject matter of the litigation. If they are not pertinent and are defamatory, he will be liable to an action for defamation. Consult Weeks, Treatise on Attorneys and Counselors at Law (San Francisco, 1892)


Website: The History
Article Name: Attorney
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


BIBLIOGRAPHY: From my Collection of Books: The New International Encyclopedia; 1902-1905 Dodd, Mead and Company-New York Total of 21 Volumes
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