Upon completing their education, students in various disciplines such as physics, mathematics, or the social sciences obtain a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.), medical students obtain a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.), and law school students obtain Juris Doctor (J.D.). Yet, while the degrees obtained by Ph.D. recipients, physicians, and attorneys all contain the term “doctor,” for various reasons, attorneys tend to resist referring to themselves as doctors. Why is that? Are attorneys actually doctors? Well, sort of.
Generally, while most attorneys are not expressly prohibited from indicating their advanced level of education through use of this honorific, attorneys may decline to identify as a doctor for a couple of reasons: (1) by holding himself or herself out as a doctor, an attorney may violate the Model Rules of Professional Conduct; and (2) usage of the term is completely unnecessary.
While it may be true that an attorney has obtained a doctor-level degree, in certain contexts it may be misleading or unethical to an attorney’s prospective clients if he or she identifies as such. Ethical dilemmas aside, attorneys have another, equally effective way of setting themselves apart as individuals with advanced, specialized qualifications: the designation “Esquire.”
Originating in the United Kingdom, the term “Esquire” was traditionally reserved for individuals with a social rank below the title of “Knight.” Thereafter, it was used by those holding a position of trust, and over time, “Esquire” came to commonly refer to attorneys. In the United States, an individual identifying as “Esquire” or “Esq.” is representing that he or she has obtained a Juris Doctor and passed the state bar exam in the state in which he or she practices law, thereby permitting that individual to give legal advice and represent clients.
Thus, by utilizing the term “Esquire,” an attorney is holding himself or herself out as an attorney licensed by the state in which he practices.