By Jedidiah McKeehan

As my wife often tells me, lawyers use funny words and phrases that are unnecessary, just to make themselves seem important.  Well, sometimes I agree with her.  Even some of the job titles we give out for those people working at a law firm can be a little strange.  Let’s go through some.

Attorney/Lawyer/Esquire – I have been asked before what the difference is between an attorney and a lawyer.  The answer is, nothing.  These are interchangeable terms.  Lawyers will put “Esq.” behind their names on documents they draft.  Again, esquire is an interchangeable word for an attorney or lawyer.  Why are there different names for the same thing?  I have no idea.

Paralegal – A paralegal has some amount of legal training, but is not a lawyer.  They can do initial drafts of documents that will be filed with the court before they are reviewed and signed by a lawyer.  A paralegal is a different position from a secretary or assistant as they will generally have greater training and abilities than an assistant.  If a lawyer is busy enough, they may have both a paralegal and an assistant working for them

Law Clerk – This bugs me.  A law clerk is the lawyer term for “intern.”  When someone has started law school and they are working for a lawyer, they are called a law clerk instead of an intern.  Again, I am not sure how this became a thing.  When I am introducing my law clerks to clients, I typically just call them my interns because most people understand what an intern is, and most will not be familiar with what the title of law clerk.

Runner – I am not sure if any other professions employ runners, but none come to mind right away.  Lawyers are often filing documents at the courthouse and sending documents to other lawyer’s offices.  Delivering those documents is the job of a runner.  This is usually a part-time position.  In the afternoon, a retired individual, or perhaps a college or high school student, may come to the office, pick up what needs to be filed and delivered, and do just that.  The job of a runner can also get rolled into another position, or if it a small law firm, the lawyer may do his own filing and delivering of documents.

Those are some of the legal jobs at a prototypical law firm with unique or confusing titles.

Jedidiah McKeehan is an attorney practicing in Knox County and surrounding counties.  He works in many areas, including criminal, personal injury, landlord-tenant, probate, and estate planning. Visit for more information about this legal issue and other legal issues.