LawProse Lesson #296: Counselor vs. Counsellor
A learned correspondent of ours, Michael Eshleman, is the county attorney for Otero County, New Mexico. A member of both the New Mexico bar and the Ohio bar, he tells us that the New Mexico admission certificate calls him an “attorney and counsellor at law.” But the Ohio admission certificate calls him an “attorney and counselor at law.” Meanwhile, although his U.S. Supreme Court certificate uses the spelling counsellor, all the other federal courts to which he has been admitted use counselor. He wants to know what gives. The answer is that counsellor is the older spelling—and remains the standard form in British English. Counselor is an American spelling introduced as part of Noah Webster’s simplified orthography in the early 1800s. It had become pretty common in American print sources by 1840, and it overtook the –ll– spelling in American English during the 1920s. The –l– spelling has been Standard American English ever since. One might surmise that admission certificates using the –ll– spelling have simply never been updated to reflect modern American English. It’s probably not a matter of Anglophilia, but rather of traditionalism. In states where the –l– spelling appears on admission certificates, some mid-20th-century editor at the bar association probably “corrected” the spelling to reflect the current preferences in American dictionaries. The huge tenth edition of Black’s Law Dictionary, being American in origin, spells it counselor. Sources: Garner’s Dictionary of Legal Usage 228 (3d ed. 2011). Black’s Law Dictionary 426 (10th ed. 2014).