In late May, readers of the legal tabloid blog Above the Law – many being law students or practitioners themselves – engaged in a debate over whether they preferred "lawyer" or "attorney" as a title. Here at LegalPad, we recently came across a related, if slightly less innocuous, predicament: What happens when you call yourself an attorney and you only have a JD?
The question arose after we found out Richard A. Rubin, a public member of the California State Bar Board of Governors, listed his occupation as "attorney" on several federal campaign contribution forms.
For those who don't know, a "public" member of the Board of Governors is supposed to be a non-lawyer appointed to represent the will of all the laypeople out there. Though Rubin graduated from George Washington University School of Law, the press release put out by the State Bar when he joined the Board of Governors in 2004 said he isn’t a member of the Bar and hasn't practiced law.
Rubin, who runs his own San Francisco-based lobbying and consulting firm, listed his occupation as "attorney" on 11 contribution forms. When we asked Rubin what was up, he explained that his staff often fills out his donation forms, and probably listed his occupation as "attorney" because they know he's a law-school graduate.
Rubin also faxed us a copy of an e-mail from Melissa de Beer, director of alumni relations at GWU Law School. In it, de Beer says, "the policy of The George Washington University Law School is as such: All of the graduates of the Juris Doctor program are attorneys, licensed or not."
That seemed reasonable to us, but struck the wrong chord with David M. Bigeleisen, a San Francisco attorney and legal ethics expert who said that having a JD does not an attorney make. Bigeleisen said that a lawyer is someone who is licensed to practice law, while an attorney is a lawyer who represents a client.
So, dear readers, what is the best practice: Can you call yourself an attorney with only a JD in your pocket and no bar standing? Feel free to comment below.
— Evan Hill