Elizabeth Wurtzel, Legal Ethics

‘Lawyer’ vs. ‘Attorney': A Distinction Without A Difference?

wurtzel book cover.gifHere’s a quick afterword on the story of Elizabeth Wurtzel, the critically acclaimed, bestselling author who — for rather mysterious reasons (9/11 was somehow involved) — traded in a life of six-figure book advances, glamorous parties, and relationships with other celebrity writers… for a law degree.
In a prior post, we wondered whether Wurtzel, who has not yet passed the bar, can refer to herself as a “lawyer” (as she has done publicly on various occasions, most recently in an interview with Bitter Lawyer). In a comment to Gawker, Wurtzel advanced the theory that she can refer to herself as a “lawyer,” even if not an “attorney,” because “if you graduate from law school/receive a JD, you are a lawyer; if you are licensed, you are an attorney.”
For those of you who just took the bar, and who will receive your law licenses in a few months, this is a pertinent inquiry. Does the lawyer vs. attorney distinction hold water?

No, according to legal ethics expert Steven Lubet, the Williams Professor of Law at Northwestern Law School:

I saw the posts on Elizabeth Wurtzel. For what it’s worth, the lawyer/attorney distinction is folklore. The terms are synonymous in American English and you may not hold yourself out as either unless you are admitted to practice somewhere.

But this doesn’t mean Liz Wurtzel is in trouble, according to Professor Lubet:

The key question, however, is whether Ms. Wurtzel has held herself out as a lawyer before a court, or to a client (or a prospective client), or to opposing counsel in the context of a case or transaction. That would be wrong, as it would imply a claim of bar membership. A casual reference, on the other hand, just seems to be a shorthand description of her education and the nature of her employment. As I said before, I don’t think that is a problem.

So the upshot is that Wurtzel is okay. She just shouldn’t pick up clients for Boies Schiller in the pages of Elle magazine.
P.S. The ATL readership may be more conservative than Professor Lubet on these matters. In a reader poll, almost 70 percent of you opined that Wurtzel is violating legal ethics rules in publicly identifying herself as a lawyer.
Earlier: Elizabeth Wurtzel Calling Herself a ‘Lawyer': A Reader Poll
Prior ATL coverage of Elizabeth Wurtzel

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