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U.K. and Ireland
The legal system in England uses the term counsel as an approximate synonym for a barrister-at-law, and may apply it to mean either a single person who pleads a cause, or collectively, the body of barristers engaged in a case. It is now confirmed by the courts the term also applies to a solicitor advocate. Some judges and lawyers apply the term interchangeably between both barristers and solicitor advocates.
The difference between "Barrister" and "Counsel" is subtle. "Barrister" is a professional title awarded by one of the four Inns of Court, and is used in a barrister's private, academic or professional capacity. "Counsel" is used to refer to a barrister who is instructed on a particular case. It is customary to use the third person when addressing a barrister instructed on a case: "Counsel is asked to advise" rather than "You are asked to advise".
The legal term counselor, or more fully, counselor-at-law, became practically obsolete in England, but continued in use locally in Ireland as an equivalent to barrister, where a Senior Counsel (S.C.) is equivalent to the English Queen's Counsel (Q.C.)
In the United States of America, the term counselor-at-law designates, specifically, an attorney admitted to practice in all courts of law; but as the United States legal system makes no formal division of the legal profession into two classes, as in the United Kingdom, most US citizens use the term loosely in the same sense as lawyer, meaning one who is versed in (or practicing) law.
In the United States and Canada, many large and midsize law firms have lawyers with the job title of "counsel", "special counsel" or "of counsel". These lawyers are employees of the firm like associates, although some firms have an independent contractor relationship with them. But unlike associates, and more like partners, they generally have their own clients, manage their own files, and supervise associates. (For more information, see the Law firm article.)