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In England and America alike today it seems that we still refer to Power of Attorney, while the term Attorney no longer seems to have any current usage itself, in England (but historically did).

Why is it called POA, and not (for example) power of solicitor?

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  • In the USA there are no solicitors. All lawyers and attorneys.
    – Trish
    Dec 18, 2023 at 13:58
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    Do you mean that all lawyers are attorneys? In any event I believe this was stated in my question. Dec 18, 2023 at 14:36
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    No, just that you won't find a solicitor or proctor practicing law anywhere in the US.
    – Trish
    Dec 18, 2023 at 14:47
  • I see. In that case I probably would have found it clearer if it had said “only” instead of “all.” Dec 18, 2023 at 23:44
  • @Trish you don't find attorneys or proctors practicing law in England and Wales, either.
    – phoog
    Dec 19, 2023 at 10:25

2 Answers 2

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The question seems to assume that the phrase "power of attorney" arose by analogy with the legal profession, that is, that it means "power to act as a lawyer." In fact, as noted in Jen's answer, it's the other way around: the word attorney arose to denote a person to whom some right or obligation was transfered, and later it came to denote a (specific category of) lawyer.

See Wiktionary's definition of attorn; it's not only about conferring a right to act but sometimes about transferring obligations:

  1. (intransitive, law) To transfer one's obligations from one person to another person.
  2. (intransitive, law) To consent to the transfer of one's obligations as tenant under a lease to a new landlord.
  3. (intransitive, law) To acknowledge the jurisdiction of (a particular court) over one's dispute.

In other words, an "attorney at law" is a specific kind of attorney, and this came to describe an occupation in the legal profession, and then that occupation was later merged into another and the name stopped being used. At the same time, "attorney in fact" and "power of attorney" continued, because they did not derive their names from "attorney at law."

From Wikipedia's Attorney at law article:

England and Wales and Ireland

The "attorney", in the sense of a lawyer who acts on behalf of a client, has an ancient pedigree in English law. The Statute of Merton 1235 uses the Latin expression "attorñ" in a phrase rendered into English by The Statutes of the Realm as

It is provided and granted that every freeman, which oweth suit to the county, trything, hundred, and wapentake, or to the court of his Lord, may freely make his attorney to do those suits for him.

The term was formerly used in England and Wales and Ireland for lawyers who practised in the common law courts. ...

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  • What is trything and wapentake? Dec 19, 2023 at 11:43
  • It would be interesting to know what other kinds of "attorneys" there are other than attorneys at law. For example, are there attorneys at science (authorized agents you can designate to publish your research on your behalf or obtain research grants for you), attorneys at health (authorized to get your medical records and consent to treatment on your behalf), attorneys at aviation (authorized by the pilot to fly the plane on their behalf), or attorneys at website (authorized to login using your credentials and use your account under your direction)? Dec 19, 2023 at 12:46
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    @TylerDurden a wapentake, like "county" and "hundred", was a historical administrative division in England. I think "Trything" may be a typo or odd spelling of "tithing", which is another smaller administrative division, because I can't find any other references to the term "Trything" except the quoted book Dec 19, 2023 at 13:48
  • @RobertColumbia see Jen's answer. The traditional term for someone who has been granted "power of attorney" is "attorney in fact."
    – phoog
    Dec 20, 2023 at 9:17
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    @CurtisFenner it's an old spelling of trithing, which is the etymological source of riding, which, like "hundred," is a subdivision of a county (whereas a tithing is a subdivision of a hundred).
    – phoog
    Dec 20, 2023 at 9:22
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Because "attorney" is the name of the entity who is assigned the powers to act for the donor. Therefore, the assignment or relationship is called a "power of attorney."

The person is an "attorney in fact," not an attorney at law.

Merriam Webster defines attorney simply as "one who is legally appointed to transact business on another's behalf." This clearly encompasses the kind of relationship created through the power of attorney that you're asking about.

Although, Wiktionary notes that:

the word is now used to refer to nonlawyers usually only in fixed phrases such as attorney-in-fact or power of attorney

It also notes the etymology:

From Middle English attourne, from Old French atorné, masculine singular past participle of atorner, atourner, aturner ("to attorn", in the sense of "one appointed or constituted").

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  • Your answer makes perfect sense but I’m reluctant to accept it only because there is no citation given for the claim of your second paragraph so I do not know if it is in fact the right explanation for my confusion. Dec 18, 2023 at 14:55
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    @TylerDurden Try law.cornell.edu/wex/attorney-in-fact
    – Henry
    Dec 19, 2023 at 2:56

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