UK and USA Lawyers & Legal Systems

Updated: Dec 17, 2020

In the UK, there are not one but three separate legal jurisdictions in which a lawyer might be permitted to practice law. These are (1), England & Wales, (2) Scotland, and (3), Northern Ireland).

Just as is the case with the UK, the USA likewise does not have one legal system. It instead has the 50 different US state court legal systems and a separate federal court system across the US. There are additional separate legal systems in US territories such as American Samoa, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam and Puerto Rico.

Broadly, the US federal courts were set up in order to resolve disputes concerning the US Constitution, matters between the individual US states, certain cases where one or more parties are from a different US state or foreign nations, matters of admiralty law, and/or bankruptcy matters. Federal district courts can also be brought where a claim (1), relates to a sum of at least $75,000, or (2), relates to the bringing a claim against a citizen of another US state (or a foreign national).

Another major difference between the US and UK is that there is only one type of lawyer in the USA and he or she can only practice in the US states in which he or she is licensed. There are many types of lawyer in the UK. Notwithstanding that US lawyers often refer to themselves as being a "trial attorney", a "divorce attorney", or another practice-related term, there is only one type of lawyer profession in the USA and the term attorney, attorney-at-law, or counselor-at-law, etc., all have the exact same meaning. All US lawyers after obtaining their juris doctorate in law school and passing the particular state's bar exams must then apply to be admitted in one or more states' bars.

​Many UK based persons contact me by telephone or email and tell me that they need help with a USA matter and/or need an "American" lawyer.

Just as with the UK, it is important to know what legal jurisdiction (or jurisdictions) are relevant. The laws of the individual states can be very different. If there was a New York company you may need to sue for breach of contract, don't look for a "a US lawyer" or US attorney", it is important to realise that you should only be searching for a qualified lawyer of the relevant US state who is experienced the the relevant type of case.

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