Doctor vs. Lawyer: Definitions and Differences

Updated June 24, 2022

Doctors and lawyers are both professions with high levels of education and potential for success. Though they share some qualities, many aspects of these careers differ. If you're interested in working in law or medicine, learning more about each field and what you may earn can be beneficial. In this article, we explain what doctors and lawyers are, provide a list of differences between the two and review helpful tips you can use when choosing a profession.

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What is a doctor?

A medical doctor is a health care professional with the experience and credentials to provide care to patients. They assess, diagnose and improve mental and physical health, identifying the causes of illnesses and injuries and prescribing treatments. There are many fields of medicine in which doctors can specify, including pediatrics, internal, anesthesiology and obstetrics.

Read more: What Is a Doctor? Guide to What Doctors Do, Where They Work and Average Salaries

What is a lawyer?

A lawyer is a legal professional who uses their knowledge and credentials to represent clients in court and provide legal advice. Depending on their specialty, they may collaborate with law enforcement, attend legal meetings, advise clients about their rights and prepare legal documents like contracts and living wills. Lawyers can choose from a variety of specialties, including general practice, business, personal injury, immigration, criminal defense and family law.

Read more: How To Become a Lawyer in 2021 (With FAQs)

Doctor vs. lawyer

Though doctors and lawyers share many similarities, they also vary. If you're interested in a fast-paced, challenging work environment with a high potential for success, medicine or law may be right for you. These are some areas in which the two fields compare:


Medical doctors usually need seven to eight years of education as well, though they also need between three and six years of training following graduation. Doctors complete an undergraduate degree in areas like pre-medicine, biology, chemistry or psychology, then apply to medical school. They usually need between three and four years to finish med school and begin internships and residency programs, which can take between three and six years, depending on their focus, career goals, employment and performance.

To become a lawyer, you likely need between seven and eight years of education, depending on your chosen specialty and educational plan. Those in the legal profession may need four years of undergraduate education and three to four years of education in graduate school, or law school. Depending on your goals as a lawyer, you may choose majors like business, criminal justice, history, philosophy, political science, pre-law or economics. After graduation, those who want to become lawyers pass the bar examination to receive their law license and begin practicing.

Read more: Best College Majors and Degrees for Lawyers


A lawyer's responsibilities can vary greatly depending on their specialty and the clients they work with. Business lawyers may spend much of their time preparing contracts, reviewing documents and providing legal advice. Criminal defense lawyers meet with their clients, prepare defenses and work with teams to strengthen their cases. Insurance lawyers may adjust policies, examine compensation and revise plan policies. Most lawyers dedicate time to continual education and recertification.

Doctors can also perform many duties depending on their specialty and patients. Mental health doctors may meet with patients, provide counseling and prescribe medication to treat illness. Surgeons may study new procedures, examine test results and prepare for surgical operations. Family doctors may provide and guide immunizations, administer treatment, diagnose common ailments and give health advice. Emergency room workers often provide immediate care to their patients, proposing solutions quickly and taking action to prevent further injury.

Work environment

Most lawyers work in office environments, though they may need to travel to meet with clients and attend conferences. Your environment as a lawyer depends on your discipline, as criminal defense lawyers are likely to spend more time in prisons than business lawyers. Corporate and business lawyers may spend more time in meeting rooms and traveling to different locations. Personal lawyers or small claims lawyers may open small practices and provide their services to a community.

Doctors usually work in fast-paced environments that require excellent attention to detail and compassion. Some medical environments can be more relaxed than others. For example, an emergency room doctor may have a unique experience from a dermatologist. Doctors can work in hospitals and clinics and may choose to open their own private practice, depending on their focus and career goals. Doctors may experience exposure to illness and disease and practice healthy habits like washing their hands and wearing PPE, or personal protective equipment, to protect themselves.

Related: Working Life of a Doctor vs. an Engineer: What Are the Differences?

Salary and job outlook

How much a doctor or lawyer can earn depends on their experience, education, focus and performance. The national average salary for a doctor is $239,408 per year, while the national average salary for a lawyer is $71,546 per year. Other factors, like location, can also affect their earnings. For example, the highest-earning city for doctors is Indianapolis, Indiana, where they can earn $247,869 per year. The highest-earning city for lawyers is Austin, Texas, where they can earn $123,115 per year.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the legal field is projected to grow by 9% and may gain 71,500 jobs from 2020 to 2030. The current number of jobs in the field is approximately 804,200. In comparison, the medical field is not growing as quickly as the legal field. The BLS expects the medical field to grow by 3% between 2020 and 2030, adding 24,800 jobs. Currently, the approximate number of positions is around 727,000.

Related: 12 Highest-Paying Jobs for Lawyers

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Tips for choosing a profession

If you're still in high school or college or want to change your career path, you may deliberate about becoming a doctor or lawyer. Both have great potential for success and helping others, though they do have many differences. These are some tips for choosing between the legal and medical fields:

  • Consider your potential earnings. If your future salary is important to you, consider how much you may earn as both a doctor and a lawyer. Various specialties can earn differing amounts, so perform research to determine what your future focus may pay.

  • Define your ideal working environment. Doctors and lawyers usually work in different environments, with doctors facing more exposure to illness and high-pressure environments. If you prefer office work, being a lawyer may be for you.

  • Assess the cost of schooling for each. Consider the schools you want to attend and compare the cost of an education. Include facets like the cost of living in the area, expenses for certifications and the cost of equipment.

  • List your interests and hobbies. Making a list of your interests and hobbies can make it simpler to determine which field you may be best for. For example, consider if you enjoy watching medical or legal shows, studying subjects within the field, debating with friends or providing care for others, as each of these may indicate your preference.

  • Job shadow or speak with professionals. Schedule job shadowing opportunities with professionals or meet with them and ask questions about their job. Depending on their environment, doctors may not offer job shadowing because of patient privacy, but you can discuss their education and career choices with them to determine if medicine is right for you.

  • Try relevant classes for both fields. If you're in high school or college, consider taking a few classes that may allow you to learn more about each field. An anatomy or biology class might be helpful for learning more about medicine, while history or law may be helpful for determining your aptitude for the legal field.

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