What is Civil Litigation?
Civil litigation is a legal dispute between two or more parties that seek money damages or specific performance rather than criminal sanctions. A lawyer who specializes in civil litigation is known as a “litigator” or “trial lawyer.” Lawyers who practice civil litigation represent parties in trials, hearings, arbitrations and mediations before administrative agencies, foreign tribunals and federal, state and local courts.
Types of Civil Litigation
Civil litigation encompasses a broad range of disputes. Civil litigators generally specialize in one or two specific practice areas. Several common types of civil litigation include:
- Environmental Law
- Products Liability
- Personal injury
- Intellectual Property
- Medical Malpractice
- Employment & Labor
- Real Estate
- Worker’s Compensation
- Education Law
The Role of the Litigation Professional
The role of the civil litigation professional is challenging and diverse. Since civil litigation is an adversarial process, litigation attorneys and paralegals must be willing to assume an oppositional position and embrace conflict and controversy. Civil litigation attorneys and paralegals often work long hours, especially during trial, and perform occasional travel.
Civil litigation can be divided into seven stages: investigation, pleadings, discovery, pre-trial, trial, settlement and appeal. Not every lawsuit passes through each stage of litigation; most lawsuits are settled prior to trial and many cases that reach a trial verdict are not appealed.
The lifespan of a lawsuit can range from several months to several years. Complex civil litigation often takes years to pass from pre-suit investigation through trial/settlement.
Discovery is the longest and most labor-intensive stage of civil litigation. Contrary to the image portrayed by television, civil litigators spend little time in trial; most time is devoted to the discovery stage of litigation.
Certain skills and knowledge are essential to litigation practice. Key legal skills include:
- Knowledge of substantive and procedural law
- Strong written and oral advocacy skills
- Analytical and logical reasoning abilities
- Ability to synthesize complex legal and factual materials
- Superior interpersonal skills
- Knowledge of legal research techniques and software
- Client development skills
- Negotiation skills