Civil law broadly covers those areas of the law relating to claims for personal injury (including those resulting from a breach of contract). Unlike criminal law remedies which are punitive in nature, civil law remedies seek to compensate the plaintiff for their injury. Civil cases typically involve private parties, whereas it is the state or federal government that brings a criminal case on behalf of the victim.

The facts of a particular case can give rise to both criminal and civil claims. For example, while driving under the influence of alcohol, John strikes and kills a child. The state will file criminal charges against John for the child’s death. The child’s parents may also bring a wrongful death suit and other personal injury claims against John.

What Can You Expect from Your Civil Attorney?

If you are the defendant in a civil lawsuit or are thinking of filing one, having an attorney there is crucial. Your attorney will review your case and explain the types of personal injury claims you may assert, help you identify against whom those claims may be brought, and recommend the types of damages you should seek to recover in your claim. The attorney will then file a complaint on your behalf.

An attorney who represents a defendant in a civil case functions in much the same way as an attorney who represents a criminal defendant. Your attorney will plan strategy with you, interview witnesses, conduct a factual investigation, find experts to testify on your behalf, and present all the reasons why your case should be decided in your favor.

What are Some Areas of Law Practiced by Civil Attorneys?

Whether you are buying a new home or have been the victim of a doctor’s negligence, you will find a civil attorney who can help you file a claim. Some popular areas of civil legal practice include:

  • Family Law: This area of the law deals with matters involving the family,  such as custody, divorce, child support, and spousal support.
  • Business: Whether you are setting up a company or winding one down, your dealings involve business law.
  • Immigration: Issues involving your efforts to live and work in the United States are covered by immigration laws.
  • Real Estate: The ownership or leasing of buildings and lands falls under real estate law. You may find some landlord/tenant issues here as well, relating to the leasing or renting of real property.
  • Employment: These laws govern the rights and responsibilities by and between employers and employees.
  • Environmental: Issues relating to waste management, conservation, pollution, and air quality are all covered by environmental laws.
  • Personal Injury: Examples here include medical malpractice, slip and falls and car accidents.

Note that attorneys who practice civil law may be considered litigators as well as transactional attorneys. For example, John and Fiona would like to form a company together.

They each hire an attorney who regularly forms legal business entities. They also want their attorneys to handle the contracts with their top executives, draft the lease for their office space, and negotiate with the bank for their business loans. All of these are transactional.

Some time has passed and John and Fiona have a falling out about how the company is being run. Fiona has been improperly using company funds and has restricted John’s access to the company’s office and accounts. Under these facts, an attorney with litigation experience will be needed to protect John’s rights.

What Does a Civil Attorney Cost?

It is important that you understand fully what you will be paying out of pocket in order to pursue your case.  Keep in mind that you will be paying for the attorney to represent you, as well as any related fees and costs (i.e. court filing fees, expert witness fees, document production costs).

Real estate attorneys regularly conduct closings and so may offer a flat fee. On the other hand, if your attorney is negotiating the complex sale of a commercial property on your behalf, that attorney may charge an hourly rate. This hourly rate may be based on the complexity of the agreement, the senior experience of the attorney and the time it will take to conclude negotiations.

Further still, an attorney may charge you a contingency fee in a personal injury claim against a large pharmaceutical company. A contingency fee arrangement allows plaintiffs to pursue a lawsuit without having to pay (filing fees and costs are typically excluded) the attorney unless the case is successfully concluded. The attorney agrees to accept a percentage (usually one third) of the amount recovered.

Do You Need a Civil Attorney?

Whether you are the plaintiff or a defendant in a non-criminal legal case, a local lawyer can help you sort through your rights and responsibilities. You can find an attorney for whatever your civil legal issue and a good attorney can help to ease your mind through every aspect of the legal process.