The title Esquire (often abbreviated as “Esq.) is a term typically used in the United States to designate a person who may practice law. The title Esquire, which may apply to a man or a woman, goes after the name of the person. So I could say: “hello, this is Joshua Craven, Esquire.” This modern meaning employed in the United States is very different from the original meaning of the word “esquire,” which originally meant an apprentice to a Knight who was aspiring to noble rank (it is a cognate of ‘squire’). In America, where noble titles are constitutionally forbidden, the designation is usually a professional one or one of esteem. Though usually used for lawyers, Esquire is occasionally used as a formal address for a poet or an artist as well.
How To Use The Title ‘Esquire’ Properly
I want to put this right up front so that any newly minted lawyers reading this don’t commit a major faux pas: when actually speaking in business or social situations use the title Esquire only when addressing others, never yourself. Even lawyers, though generally a pretentious bunch, would consider it way over the top you walked up to them at a meeting and said “Hi, I’m Joshua Craven, Esquire.” If you are introducing yourself and you feel it is necessary to communicate that you are a lawyer, it’s sufficient to say, “I’m Joshua Craven, Attorney” or, “I’m Joshua Craven, Attorney At-Law.”
Make sure the person who you address as ‘Esquire’ is in fact a licensed attorney. Your classmates at law school aren’t Esquires yet. They have to pass the bar and be sworn in first.
If the term is used all in speech, it is probably best confined to very formal contexts and generally only when introducing a person. It would sound very foolish to keep referring to someone as an esquire several times throughout a conversation.
Another important rule: just like ‘Mr’. or ‘Mrs.’, ‘Esquire’ is a title. Therefore it is inappropriate to say “Mr. Joshua Craven, Esquire” or add other title such as “Mr. Joshua Craven, Esquire, J.D.”
The safest approach is probably to not use Esquire in speech at all. The term is most often employed as an honorific used in written communication. Here things can get a little complicated: When writing to another lawyer, you will generally use Esquire or Esq. in their physical address. However, you would still address them as Mr. or Mrs. following the salutation. Here is an example:
Joshua Craven, Esq.
56 Big Firm Road
Sheboygan, Illinois 03458
Dear Mr. Joshua Craven,
I am contacting you in response to your letter of June the 5th….
Though you wouldn’t refer to yourself as Esquire in speech, it is perfectly fine to use the title Esquire in your own signature block, such as the one you put at the end of an email (‘Attorney’, and ‘Attorney-At-Law’ work for that as well). Often firm practice governs how signature blocks are done, so look to guidance within your own firm or office. Adding the term Esquire is a very useful way for people reading your email to tell that a lawyer wrote it rather than a paralegal or other office staff, so more often that not you want Esquire or equivalent appended to your signature.
Esquire in the UK
In Britan, the word esquire does not carry the same professional meaning it does here, rather it is used as a very formal address for a man or a woman in lieu of ‘Mr.’, ‘Mrs.’ or some other title. If you wander across the pond, no one is going to think you are talking about a lawyer when you say ‘esquire.’ They are just going to think you are strange and old-fashioned.
On behalf of Lawschooli.com, I apologize for playing Emily Post for a minute, but hopefully this information will help you avoid any embarrassing mishaps down the road. Now for those totally new to the law school world, here’s how you earn the title of ‘Esquire’:
Becoming an Esquire
If you’d like to earn the right to call yourself an Esquire, there are just 4 simple steps:
1. Take the LSAT. Here’s how to do it: How I Got A 177 On The LSAT
2. Apply to law school. Here’s the best book with advice on how to apply successfully: The Law School Admissions Game By Ann Levine
3. Graduate law school. It’s not going to be easy. Check out our post How Hard Is Law School?
4. Pass the bar exam for you state. Some are a lot harder than others, but with intense study you can pass.