The adversarial legal system is one type of commonly used legal system. In an adversarial system, a lawyer or advocate represents each party, or adversary. Each party presents his or her side to an impartial party. The impartial party then determines the outcome of the case based on the information presented by each adversary.

What Other Legal Systems Exist?

Another commonly used system is the inquisitorial system. Under this system, there is a panel of individuals or a judge that is entrusted with investigating the civil or criminal conflict. After an investigation, the panel or judge determines the verdict. This system is most widely used by civil law systems, although is used in some instances by common law countries for certain purposes. For example, jurisdictions in the United States use an inquisitorial system for traffic violations.

How Does the United States’ System Differ from the European System?

  • United States Adversarial Legal System: The United States legal system developed into an adversarial one. In the United States, lawyers represent the interests of various parties in the conflict, called the plaintiff and defendant in civil cases and the prosecution and defendant in criminal cases. The judge and, sometimes, the jury remains a neutral party as each side presents their case.
  • The European Inquisitorial System: The inquisitorial system developed in Europe relies heavily on the judge to make legal arguments, and to weigh and balance the evidence. In this system, the judge may develop her own ideas about the correct outcome of the case.

Hiring an Attorney

Since the United States system is adversarial, the importance of a good civil or criminal attorney cannot be overemphasized. A talented lawyer can persuade jurors that her legal argument represents the correct position.