How to Address a Lawyer – Addressing an Attorney Properly

How to Address a Lawyer Properly

how to address a lawyerIf a person has a title, it is to your advantage to use it correctly.  At the very least, they will be more interested in what you have to say.  Business owners frequently deal with lawyers for a variety of matters. But, having a law degree and being a lawyer are two different things.  Not every person with a law degree takes or passes a state bar exam to become a practicing lawyer. How to address a lawyer properly starts by understanding the difference between having a law degree and being licensed to practice law.

Addressing an Attorney with a Juris Doctorate Degree 

A Juris Doctorate, or J.D., is a law degree.  It means the person has attended and graduated from law school. This is similar to a psychology student attending graduate school to get a Ph.D. in postgraduate studies. The J.D. alone doesn’t make a person a practicing attorney.  While getting the J.D. is not necessarily a requirement for taking and passing the state bar exam.  Addressing a letter to someone with a law degree but who isn’t practicing law means recognizing the J.D. This is a courtesy you should show to any other professional with an advanced or doctorate. For example, Attn: John Smith, J.D. is the appropriate way to address the envelope, as well as the address block in the letter. However, the salutation in the letter would still be, Dear Mr. Smith.

Addressing a Practicing Attorney 

Practicing attorneys have taken and passed their state’s bar exam. Most practicing attorneys did attend law school and likely have a Juris Doctorate.  However, the J.D. is not noted in correspondence. Instead, address a practicing attorney either as Esquire or Attorney at Law. These titles are interchangeable.  However, most lawyers will use one or the other on business cards or correspondence, such as Joe Mill, Esquire. If you don’t know how the attorney refers to himself, choose either. If a business card, letter, or website is available, choose the term used by the attorney himself.

Note that “Esquire” can be abbreviated as “Esq.” Salutations don’t note the attorney status. “Dear Mr. Mill,” is the appropriate salutation.  If addressing an invitation, letter, or envelope to a couple, and the wife is a lawyer, her name is placed before his. For example, “Jane Smith, Esq. and John Smith.” Standard protocol addresses the more credentialed individual first. If both have equivalent advanced degrees or both practice law, revert back to traditional formatting. (Source:

Addressing an Attorney on a Legal Matter 

Esquire, abbreviated Esq.,  is a courtesy title.  It is used by others when addressing an attorney regarding a case in which he or she provides representation.

Addressing an attorney on a legal matter:
(Full Name), Esq.
Name of Firm

Letter salutation:
Dear Mr./Ms. (Surname):

Address to Attorney at Law

  • “Mr.” or “Ms.” followed by the full name of the lawyer on the first line of the address.
  • “Attorney at Law” goes on the second line of the address. Type the name of the attorney’s law firm, company, or governmental agency on the line under “Attorney at Law.” Add the street address on the next line with the city, state, and ZIP code on the last line.
  • The salutation  “Dear Mr.” or “Dear Ms.” is followed by the last name of the lawyer. Put a colon at the end of the salutation.

Address to Esquire

  • The lawyer’s full name is followed by a comma. Type “Esq.” after the comma.
  • Type the name of the attorney’s law firm, company, or governmental agency on the line under his name. Add the street address on the next line with the city, state, and ZIP code on the last line.
  • The salutation “Dear Mr.” or “Dear Ms.” is followed by the last name of the lawyer. Type a colon at the end of the salutation.

How to Address a Lawyer on a Personal or Social Matter

Esquire is not used when addressing an attorney socially.

Addressing an attorney for personal or social issues:
Mr./Ms. (Full Name)

How to Address a Lawyer in Court

Mr., Ms., Sir, or Madam are all appropriate when addressing an attorney.  Always address a Judge as Your Honor.

Judges typically refer to one another as “learned” or “esteemed” colleagues.

How to Address a Lawyer who is Female

Address a female attorney with the same presumption of authority that you would a male attorney.  Approximately one-third of all practicing attorneys in the United States are women.  Women make up more than half of modern law school graduating classes.  Just like their male counterparts, female attorneys expect and deserve respect for their profession.

Use “Dear Ms. [name]” whenever possible to open a business letter to a female attorney. This traditional salutation is short, to the point, professional, and polite. Showing simple respect and manners put your best foot forward in your communications.  Modern names have often become unisex. If you are unsure if “Morgan” or “Taylor” is a man or woman and you can’t verify it, open your business letter with the attorney’s full name, “Dear Morgan Smith:”   If you don’t have a specific name, avoid worn-out cliches like “To Whom It May Concern.” Examples of modern generic salutations include “Dear Sir or Madam,” or “Dear Legal Department.”   Use proper salutations in your email to a female attorney as well. (Source:

Addressing an Attorney – References to Law Practice

Lawyers serve many different industries working in a variety of business structures. Some attorneys maintain solo law practices.  Others work for corporations or government entities. When addressing an envelope or letter to a lawyer, the lawyer’s name is followed by the law firm, corporation, or governmental agency on the next line before the address.

Most organizations maintain websites that list the names and titles of key employees. Take the time to review any additional titles that may pertain to the lawyer you’re addressing. For example, a firm specializing in industrial patents could list an attorney’s title as, “John Smith, Esquire, Patent Specialist.”

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