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What does Esquire mean?

Updated: Jun 16, 2023

If you have ever met anyone that studied law then you know the term esquire. You may have seen it after an attorney's name abbreviated as Esq. on their law firm's website. Any individual that is sworn into the bar in their state is given this title, but what exactly does it mean? While the title has a strange origin story we decided to dive in and give you a breakdown of how the term came to be and why most attorneys are given that title.


The Meaning of Esquire in Verbal Communication

When the term esquire is used it is generally written on a piece of paper it is not a colloquial term we use today when we speak to attorneys. The most you will see this term is usually in formal written correspondence with another attorney or entity by which a case is being handled by.

Lawyers generally do not utilize this term in any other way but when making negotiations or discussing legal topics. The term is one of prestige and it gives those in the legal field a sense of respect and courtesy when that title is used.

What is the origin of the title Esquire and its meaning?

The title of Esquire dates back to the middle ages during medieval times where titles established your rank. The title esquire held weight and was generally a term coined for a knight's shield bearer. While this may make the 'esquire' seem like a lower class than that of a knight, the esquire himself was also dubbed a knight thus placing them on the same level.

As the middle ages end and a new time begins the title esquire becomes more confusing. This is due to the fact that others were also given similar terms such as those who had been granted a coat of arms. The definition of esquire literally translates to "shield-bearer," which is why the title confused many.

It wasn't until the 18th century which the title was determined to mean a name for everyone who might be important by birth, education, or professional achievement. In our current time terms of nobility have died down due to it not fitting with our current societal structuring in the United States.

In fact, the U.S. Constitution prevents the government from issuing titles of nobility at all. The only term of nobility that seemingly negated that ideal is esquire. Lawyers are quite literally the only individuals who had an interest in this term.

While there are no official rules about who gets to be called an esquire today, the term is conventionally limited to lawyers who have passed their state’s bar exam and are thus licensed to practice law. Make sure the person who you address as ‘Esquire’ is, in fact, a licensed attorney because your classmates in law school aren’t quite Esquires yet.

Becoming an Esquire

The designation is gender-neutral and can be used for male and female individuals (Mr., Ms., or Mrs.). Additionally, several other credentials can be included after an attorney’s name, for example, LL.M., J.S.D., or combined credentials like J.D./MBA.

When Lawyers Can Use Esq.

The title Esquire is a courtesy title used in correspondence with an attorney. The term is often used to sign legal documents and proceedings.

In order for those in legal professions to utilize this title they must officially be bared in the state that they are currently a practicing lawyer in.

In social correspondence, this courtesy title is meant to show respect for those who have gone through the rigorous process of becoming an attorney and passing the Bar.

Using Esq, or Esquire, in Written Communication

The use of the tile esquire in written conversation is a formal way to address someone who is a lawyer. It is most commonly used in legal documents and correspondence, indicating that the document’s content comes from an attorney.

Esquire should not be used when referring to yourself, as that is considered boastful and removes the core purpose of the term. Many law offices have policies that will dictate how the term esquire is used on a letterhead or email signature.

How can I get the title of Esquire?

Well, the first step would be to go to law school. It's important to choose a law school that is prestigious and it will be an invaluable asset that can open up countless opportunities for that person’s future. Here are a few schools you may want to look into and the programs that they offer:

  • Harvard offers a Juris Doctorate Degree, specializing in intellectual property, international law, and access to justice.

  • Yale offers a Juris Doctorate Degree and a Master of Laws (LL.M.) in international and comparative law. Stanford offers a Juris Doctorate and extensive clinical programs.

  • Columbia offers a Juris Doctorate Degree and dual-degree programs in business, government, engineering, social work, and much more.

  • New York University offers a Juris Doctorate Degree and LL.M. in Taxation.

  • The University of Pennsylvania offers the J.D. degree program and the Master of Laws Program (LL.M.).

  • Northwestern University Pritzker offers various J.D. dual degrees, including Business & Entrepreneurship and Public Interest & Social Justice specializations.

  • Duke University provides hands-on learning experiences through clinics and externship opportunities while offering competitive financial aid packages.

  • The University of Virginia focuses on developing academic skills and professional disciplines like writing, research methods, problem-solving abilities, and client interviewing techniques essential for success when practicing law in a private law firm.

The steps you need to take to attend law school

Step One: Pass the LSAT

The LSAT is a critical step for those who want to attend law school. Students must strive to get a high LSAT score to secure their law school position. Once accepted into law school, graduates must pass the Bar to become licensed professionals.

Passing the Bar is a significant accomplishment for an attorney and allows them to add the title Esquire to their communications and address (in addition to (Mr., Ms., or Mrs.), signifying their right to practice law.

Step Two: Graduating Law School

In order to attend law school you must have an undergraduate degree and good LSAT scores. While in school or during your internship period you can decide on what specialization you would like to have. Such as:

  • Administrative law

  • Civil litigation

  • Family law

  • Taxation

  • Wills and trusts

Step Three: Pass the Bar to Practice

In order for an attorney to be legally recognized as such they must have a law degree and take their state's bar examination. This is a crucial milestone for law school graduates, as it determines whether they can practice law within that state.

Is important to note that even if the attorney is barred in one state it does not mean they can practice in another state. They must get barred in that other state as well.

Upon passing the Bar, attorneys can add the title Esquire to their communications which means, by definition, that they have the right to practice law. Passing the Bar is a significant accomplishment for attorneys and a cause for celebration.

Other Lawyer Abbreviations

Legal professionals use a variety of abbreviations to indicate their qualifications and credentials. The most common abbreviation is J.D., which stands for Juris Doctor and demonstrates that an attorney has graduated from law school and is qualified to practice law in the United States.

LL.M. stands for Master of Law and indicates that the attorney has advanced legal study in a specific area, while J.S.D. stands for Doctor of Science of Law and demonstrates that the attorney has earned a Ph.D.-level in law.

Can Lawyers only use the term esquire while being an active member of the bar?

The term esquire follows a lawyer whether they are an active or retired lawyer. There is no official ruling stating when the use of the title esquire is no longer acceptable. However, retired professionals should not use Esquire to drum up business in another state or represent themselves as currently practicing professionals.

Understanding the importance of the noble title Esquire

In conclusion, the term ‘Esquire’ is a title of respect that has been used for centuries to refer to lawyers. While the term is used more so as a formal title in written correspondence it does hold a lot of weight within the legal profession.

The esquire title is also important for individuals to understand because if someone does not utilize this and calls themselves an attorney on any written communication it should raise a red flag. As we have stated, even though the term is not used in speech it still carries weight. Therefore if you are looking for an attorney for any case you may have to ensure they have the abbreviated Esq next to their names on the website.

All of the attorneys at Demesmin and Dover Law Firm have the title of esquire next to their name because they have all passed the state bar exam. The logical reasoning behind this is so that you know any attorney you speak to from our firm has the knowledge and expertise to help you.

Our attorneys want to ensure that after an accident you contact a lawyer that has the skills to help you. That's why you should call us today at 866-954-MORE (6673) for your free consultation. We want to ensure you are informed every step of the way.


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