Should Attorney Be Capitalized?

From courtroom dramas to daily news, the word “attorney” permeates our legal landscape.

Yet, a silent debate lingers: should it be adorned with the distinction of capitalization or remain humbly lowercase?

This article delves into the history, style guides, and practical considerations surrounding this grammatical conundrum.

An image illustration of Should Attorney Be Capitalized
Capitalize attorney when it is used as a title or a professional designation before or after a name.

When to Capitalize Attorney

The general rule is: to capitalize attorney when it is used as a title or a professional designation before or after a name.

Do not capitalize attorney when it is used as a common noun or a generic term.

For example:

  • Attorney Alex Whitman represented the plaintiff in the case. (Attorney is capitalized as a title before a name.)
  • Luka Morales, attorney for XYZ, presented her arguments to the court. (Attorney is not capitalized as a common noun after a name.)
  • The attorney argued that the evidence was insufficient. (Attorney is not capitalized as a generic term.)

However, there are some exceptions and variations to this rule.

For instance, some style guides, such as the Associated Press Stylebook, recommend capitalizing attorney only when it is used as part of a formal title, such as Attorney General or District Attorney.

Other style guides, such as the Chicago Manual of Style, suggest capitalizing attorney when it is used as a courtesy title, such as Dear Attorney Smith or Yours sincerely, Attorney Jones.

Another exception is when the attorney is used as part of a specific name of a law firm, an organization, or a publication.

In this case, the attorney should be capitalized as part of the proper noun.

For example:

  • He works at the Law Office of Attorney James Lee. (Attorney is capitalized as part of the name of the law office.)
  • She is a member of the National Association of Attorneys General. (Attorney is capitalized as part of the name of the organization.)
  • He subscribed to the Attorney at Law Magazine. (Attorney is capitalized as part of the name of the publication.)

When to Capitalize Other Legal Titles

The same general rule applies to other legal titles, such as lawyer, counsel, esquire, judge, and justice.

Capitalize them when they are used as titles or professional designations before or after a name.

Do not capitalize them when they are used as common nouns or generic terms.

For example:

  • Lawyer Mary Jones filed a motion to dismiss the case. (Lawyer is capitalized as a title before a name.)
  • Luka Morales, lawyer for ABC, objected to the motion. (Lawyer is not capitalized as a common noun after a name.)
  • The lawyer claimed that the motion was frivolous. (Lawyer is not capitalized as a generic term.)
  • Counsel Robert Smith advised his client to settle the dispute. (Counsel is capitalized as a title before a name.)
  • Luka Morales, counsel for DEF, agreed to the settlement. (Counsel is not capitalized as a common noun after a name.)
  • The counsel exchanged documents and signatures. (Counsel is not capitalized as a generic term.)
  • Esquire John Smith is a respected legal scholar. (Esquire is capitalized as a professional designation after a name.)
  • Luka Morales, Esq., wrote a book on constitutional law. (Esq. is capitalized as a professional designation after a name.)
  • The esquire addressed the audience with eloquence. (Esquire is not capitalized as a generic term.)
  • Judge Mary Jones presided over the trial. (Judge is capitalized as a title before a name.)
  • Luka Morales, judge of the Superior Court, issued a verdict. (Judge is not capitalized as a common noun after a name.)
  • The judge instructed the jury to deliberate. (Judge is not capitalized as a generic term.)
  • Justice Robert Smith delivered the majority opinion. (Justice is capitalized as a title before a name.)
  • Luka Morales, a justice of the Supreme Court, dissented. (Justice is not capitalized as a common noun after a name.)
  • The justice explained the reasoning behind the decision. (Justice is not capitalized as a generic term.)

Tips and Tricks to Avoid Mistakes and Confusion

Capitalizing attorney and other legal titles can be tricky and confusing, especially when there are different style guides and preferences involved.

Here are some tips and tricks to help you avoid mistakes and confusion:

  • Check the style guide or the preference of the publication, the organization, or the person you are writing for. Different style guides and preferences may have different rules and guidelines for capitalizing attorney and other legal titles. For example, the Associated Press Stylebook has different rules than the Chicago Manual of Style. If you are not sure, ask for clarification or follow the most common and consistent practice.
  • Always be consistent and clear. Whatever style guide or preference you follow, make sure you apply it consistently and clearly throughout your writing. Do not switch between different styles or preferences without a good reason. This will help you avoid confusion and inconsistency in your writing.
  • Use common sense and context. Sometimes, capitalizing attorney and other legal titles may depend on common sense and the context of the situation. For example, if you are writing a formal letter or a legal document, you may want to capitalize attorney and other legal titles as a sign of respect and professionalism.

Conclusion

Capitalizing attorney and other legal titles can be challenging and complicated, but it does not have to be.

By following the general rule and the tips and tricks in this article, you can write with confidence and accuracy.

Remember, capitalize attorney and other legal titles when they are used as titles or professional designations before or after a name.

Do not capitalize them when they are used as common nouns or generic terms.

Always check the style guide or the preference of the publication, the organization, or the person you are writing for, be consistent and clear, and use common sense and context.

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