Civil litigation, sometimes referred to as a “civil lawsuit,” is a legal process in which individuals, businesses, and other entities hold another party liable for some type of wrong. Generally, if a person is successful, he or she will be awarded some type of compensation. A civil litigation lawyer represents the plaintiff (the party that initiated the lawsuit) or the defendant (the party accused of wrongdoing) throughout the legal proceedings. Read on to learn more about the civil litigation lawyer.
What Does a Civil Litigation Lawyer Do?
Civil law is the body of law that defines and regulates the rights of citizens and groups, and also allows for legal remedies. Governed by state and federal statute, civil litigation covers a broad range of disputes and, in general, civil litigation lawyers specialize in one or two specific areas of practice. For instance, one civil litigator may focus on family and personal injury disputes, while another only takes cases related to environmental law.
The most common practice areas of civil litigation include:
- Construction Liability
- Family Law: Divorce and Child Custody
- Educational Law
- Environmental Law
- Intellectual Property
- Landlord/Tenant Disputes
- Medical Malpractice
- Personal Injury
- Product Liability
- Real Estate
- Workers’ Compensation
A civil law attorney, which is a civil litigation lawyer, meets with potential clients and decides whether the case is worth pursuing. Civil lawsuits, as well as family law litigation, entail a great deal of paperwork and work behind the scenes before anything ever goes to court. For this reason, if the lawyer agrees to take the case, the client may be asked to sign a contract or retainer agreement, which outlines the terms of the attorney/client relationship.
After accepting a case, the attorney works with the client and handles all aspects of the lawsuit, including filling out the paperwork that must be filed with the court, seeing to those filings, and having documents legally served on parties to the lawsuit. The civil litigator also gathers evidence, files motions, and attends scheduled court hearings. The lawyer may also file an appeal if the case is not won.
Civil Litigation Lawyer Fees
When the retainer agreement is signed, the client will usually be charged a certain amount as a retainer – this is often in the neighborhood of $500-$5,000, which is put into a special bank account, and used to pay for the lawyer’s services as they are rendered. The lawyer is required to carefully keep track of the time spent working on the case, and provide a detailed accounting to the client of how his retainer is being spent. If the case is continuing when the retainer amount runs dry, the client will be asked to pay an additional amount into the retainer account.
Some civil lawsuits are commonly handled on a contingency fee basis, which means an agreed upon fee will be paid to the attorney upon the successful conclusion of the case. The most common lawsuits handled on contingency are personal injury lawsuits, and the attorney generally receives a percentage of the total settlement or award amount.
This contingency fee is often different, depending on how much work was done on the case. For example, many lawyers charge 33% of a settlement amount that is received before actually filing a lawsuit. If the lawsuit is filed, the attorney will receive a higher amount – perhaps 40% – and if the case actually goes to trial, the attorney may receive 45%. The reason for this is that the amount of work that must be done increases exponentially as the case heads toward trial.
Professional Requirements to Become a Civil Litigation Lawyer
To become a civil litigation lawyer, one must obtain a bachelor’s degree, take the Law School Admission Test (LSAT), and then attend law school to receive a Juris Doctorate (J.D.) degree. In law school, the student will study civil procedure, torts, contracts, property law, constitutional law, legal writing, and other subjects related to the legal system. Students may also complete judicial internships or clinical experiences.
After graduating law school, the student must pass the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE) before taking the bar exam (excluding those in Maryland, Wisconsin, and Puerto Rico). The MPRE is a two-hour, 60 question exam that tests the graduate on the professional conduct required by the American Bar Association (ABA).
After successful completion of the MPRE, the last professional requirement to become a civil litigation lawyer is passing the state bar exam. The exam is broken down into state and multi-state sections, and it takes place over a span of two days. To practice law in multiple states, the lawyer must pass the bar exams in each of those states.
Applicants with felony convictions, a history of substance abuse, or certain criminal charges can be disqualified from admittance to the bar.
Additional Education and Experience
Once licensed, attorneys can also obtain a Master of Laws (LLM) at select law schools to broaden their career prospects. The internationally recognized degree allows students to study specific areas of the law more in-depth.
In addition to the education required to obtain a license to practice law, lawyers are required to obtain a certain number of hours of Continuing Education annually.
Additional Licensure Requirements
Most states also have additional licensure requirements. For example, in Missouri, a lawyer must complete two hours of ethics courses within 12 months of obtaining a license. The Missouri bar also requires members to successfully complete 15 hours of legal education each year.
Lawyers wanting to specialize in certain areas, such as disability advocacy and civil trial law, can also receive certification from the National Board of Legal Specialty Certification (NBLSC).
Where Can You Work as a Civil Litigation Lawyer
Where a civil litigation attorney works depends on the clients he or she represents. Generally, attorneys that represent individual people have a solo practice, or work for a small private firm with more than one attorney. If representing large companies, the lawyer is likely to be employed by a large law firm.
An attorney can also work as a government counsel, to help write and interpret laws, or as a special interest lawyer to represent clients in cases considered to be in the public’s best interest. A special interest lawyer may work with a charitable organization, educational institution, or international organization.
How do Civil Litigation Lawyers Get Paid
How civil litigation lawyers get paid depends greatly on the attorney and the case in question. While some attorneys or firms charge a flat rate regardless of the complexity of the case, most charge by the hour. In addition to hourly civil litigation lawyer fees, the client may also be responsible for costs, which include such things as filing fees, mailing expenses, fees for process service, and some travel charges. A retainer fee (advanced payment for services) may also be required by the attorney, and this fee varies for each case.
If a case is likely to involve a large monetary verdict or settlement, the civil litigation attorney may work on a contingency fee basis. This means that the lawyer receives a percentage or set amount of the damages awarded to the client. If the case is lost, the lawyer is not compensated for the time spent on the case, but the client may be expected to pay for costs, including those mentioned above, as well as other expenses, like jury fees, travel costs, filing fees, and phone charges.
Civil Litigation Lawyer Salary
The median wage for attorneys in 2018 is $119,250 annually according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (“BLS”) Occupational Outlook Handbook. It does not break down the different areas of law practiced, however.
For an experienced, successful lawyer, the salary can be upwards of $200,000 which is the higher end of the spectrum.
Employment Outlook for Civil Litigation Lawyer
The civil litigation field of law is predicted to grow at a rate of 8% by 2026. As with most occupations, as more students obtain a degree, the competition for jobs is increasing.
Hiring a Civil Litigation Attorney
If you are considering filing a lawsuit, it is a good idea to consult with an attorney. A lawsuit is a complex legal process, and a lawyer can help you determine if you have a chance at a successful outcome. Many attorneys offer a free consultation, during which you will have the chance to ask some basic questions to help you decide if you should proceed with the case. You should also ask about the lawyer’s expertise and experience. To ensure you are hiring a civil litigation lawyer that is right for your case, it’s a good idea to consult with more than one attorney before choosing the one that will represent you.
Before hiring a civil litigation attorney, it is important to inquire about the fees that will be related to the case. For instance, if the lawyer charges by the hour, ask if there are additional fees for services such as copying, using a courier, or travel. If you are uncomfortable with any of the potential fees, it is essential to discuss this before signing a contract.
Once you hire a lawyer, he or she will handle all aspects of your case, including filing necessary paperwork, interviewing witnesses, and attending court hearings. They should also communicate effectively with you, and keep you up-to-date with the happenings of your case.
How to Find the Right Civil Litigation Attorney
If you have decided to hire an attorney, you may be wondering how to find the right civil litigation attorney. Since there are many different types of lawyers, you should focus your search on finding one that practices the area of law your legal issue is related to.
Since personal recommendations are often the most reliable type of reference, ask family, friends, and co-workers if they know an attorney that would be suitable for your case. If you know a reliable lawyer that practices a different area of law, you can also seek his or her recommendation. Another option is to run an attorney database search online, which may provide information about local attorneys, including practice areas, reviews, and disciplinary records. You can also check the bar association attorney directory in your state. You can visit the American Bar Association website to get started with your search.
|Degree Level||Juris Doctor (J.D.), Master of Laws (LL.M.) is optional|
|License/Certification||Licensure in state of practice|
|Key Skills||Creative problem-solving, critical thinking, negotiation, verbal and written communication, knowledgeable about constitutional and civil law, ability to work in a fast-paced environment, detail oriented|
|Number of Jobs (2016)||792,500|
|8% growth rate (average growth rate)|
|Median Salary (2017)||$119,250*|
|On the Job Training||Internships and on-the-job training|
|Top Earners||Top earners in the field are generally employed by large corporations|
(*Source: the BLS)