Many of us will require legal advice or representation at one point in our lives. This frequently involves a civil lawsuit. In the most basic of terms, civil suits refer to the court-based process through which one person seeks to hold someone else liable for some type of wrong.
When this happens, a litigation attorney is needed. This type of lawyer, also known as simply a “litigator” or “trial lawyer,” specializes in representing both plantiffs and defendants in civil cases and manages all phases of the litigation process.
According to the balance The Role of the Litigation Attorney, there are roughly seven distinct steps litigation attorneys are responsible for in their roles.
- Case Investigation/Assesment
The first step of a litigation attorney’s process varies depending on whether he/she is representing the plaintiff or defendant. In the case of the plantiff, the lawyer conducts initial case investigation to determine if enough evidence even exists to file the suit. Conversely, an injury attorney, for example, first determines what evidence exists to defend a suit when representing a defendant.
The full investigation process can include locating witnesses and taking statements, gathering documents and thoroughly interviewing the client. This stage of the process may also lead to a pre-litigation settlement if the attorney is able to use his/her research to resolve the matter before a suit is officially filed.
Assuming a suit is officially filed, the litigation attorney’s next step is to begin filing pleading and motions on behalf of the client. For plaintiffs, this means drafting a summons or complaint, while defendants require further investigation of the allegations to formulate responses. Examples of motions include motions to strike, dismiss, amend or change venue.
Following the submission of pleadings, the attorney then engages in a discovery process. This involves the exchange of information between opposing sides through methods, such as depositions, interrogations and other information-gathering techniques. The discovery stage is also the time when personal injury lawyers, for example, would examine physical evidence from the crime scene.
Once the litigation team or individual has completed the discovery phase, it’s time for pre-trial activity. This process occurs in the weeks leading up to the trial and involves litigators consulting with and advising clients, along with attending pre-trial conferences. This is also the time when lawyers develop their trial strategy, retain expert witnesses and prepare demonstrative exhibits.
Next, the actual trial begins. It’s important to note that most suits never make it to this point. Rather, the majority are settled prior to the trial stage. For those that do proceed to the trial stage, though, this period is very busy for litigators. This is when lawyers present their cases before the judge. This involves collaborating with experts and clients to maintain strategy and generally assessing the case as it progresses.Litigation attorneys are also in charge of selecting a jury and presenting opening/closing statements, along with examining and cross-examining witnesses.
For those cases that do not reach trial, settlement is the last stop. This stage eliminates the costly and timely nature of a trial and may be preferred in many cases, including by securities fraud lawyers, maritime injury lawyers and/or probate litigation, for example.
Cases may be settled at any time throughout the course of litigation. Litigation attorneys work to negotiate with opposing parties, conducting mediations and conferences to find a suitable middle ground amount that satisfies both sides.
If/when litigation attorneys do not win trials, an appeal may be an option. This involves drafting post-trial motions and identifying certain issues to appeal, along with an overall appeal strategy. Lawyers at this stage would need to also gather evidence and research the procedural operations for the issues. Like a normal trial, an appeal would require another presentation of oral arguments before appellate courts.
All in all, the role of a litigation attorney varies greatly depending on the stage of the process, which side they are representing and the significance of the case. From discovery and pre-trial, to trial and the possibility of appeal, responsibilities can range greatly. Regardless, though, their importance cannot be understated for their jobs drive the American justice system.