Find the right lawyer now

Civil Attorney Procedure

Find a Local Products & Services Lawyer near You

Civil vs. Criminal Law

There are two legal systems in America: the civil system and the criminal system. In the criminal system, someone is charged with a crime by the government, be it local, state, or federal. Then, he or she may be punished through various means including fines or prison time depending on the crime.

In the civil system, two people go into court in order to solve some sort of disagreement between. One person may receive redress in one form or another. The process of seeking civil redress is covered by laws of civil procedure.

Legal Representation Rules

In the criminal system, an accused person has the right to an attorney free of charge (or with minimal fees). The accused may hire an attorney to defend him or her or have an attorney appointed through the judicial system. However, in the civil system, the parties usually hire attorneys privately or through a nonprofit.

If you are sued by someone in civil court, you may hire an attorney on a contingency fee. This means that the attorney will get paid only if you win, usually through a percentage of the amount won at trial. In a criminal case, an attorney cannot work on a contingency fee basis.

Different Stages of Civil Litigation

A Complaint – In civil litigation, one person sues another person. This begins with a complaint. This is a document that contains the allegations of wrongdoing and is filed with the court. The court may dismiss a case based on the complaint alone if the claim is not legally supported. An attorney will be able to tell you whether your complaint is legally supported, and be able to draft a strong complaint document with all the proper pieces.

Motions – Before trial, parties may submit various motions in order to get ready for trial. Common motions in civil litigation include a motion to dismiss the case and a motion for summary judgment. Both of these motions will end the case if there is not a sufficient basis to go to trial.

Discovery – Discovery is the process where parties collect information. Each party is trying to collect information that will become evidence at trial. There are very broad rules for what can be discovered in a civil trial.

Trial – At trial, each side presents the evidence as to why that side should win. The rules of evidence in civil cases are very different from criminal cases because of the different punishments for wrongdoing. Someone who may go to prison has different rights at trial than someone who may have to pay another person damages.

Do I Need to Hire an Attorney?

Going through the process of civil litigation has many rules, procedures, and deadlines. An attorney can create an advantageous strategy for your case and can efficiently navigate the rules of civil procedure. He or she can also help you determine which actions to take based on the facts of your specific case.

Photo of page author Rachel Wenzel

, LegalMatch Legal Writer

Last Modified: 10-07-2014 04:41 PM PDT

Law Library Disclaimer
  • No fee to present your case
  • Choose from lawyers in your area
  • A 100% confidential service
What is LegalMatch?

We've helped more than 4 million clients find the right lawyer – for free. Present your case online in minutes. LegalMatch matches you to pre-screened lawyers in your city or county based on the specifics of your case. Within 24 hours experienced local lawyers review it and evaluate if you have a solid case. If so, attorneys respond with an offer to represent you that includes a full attorney profile with details on their fee structure, background, and ratings by other LegalMatch users so you can decide if they're the right lawyer for you.