A civil law lawyer is most commonly referred to as a litigator. This is a specific type of attorney that is hired by a client in order to either pursue or defend a civil lawsuit. A civil law attorney may specialize in any of the following fields of law:
- Personal injury law;
- Employment law;
- Family law;
- Business and finance law;
- Immigration law;
- Real estate law; and
- Landlord and tenant law.
In order to better understand what a civil law lawyer is, especially in comparison with a criminal lawyer, it is helpful to discuss the differences between civil and criminal law. Civil law is intended to address behavior that causes some sort of injury, either to an individual or some other party. This is done through the utilization of lawsuits. When one party to a lawsuit is determined to be liable for these injurious acts, the consequences generally consist of monetary awards or injunctions.
Alternatively, criminal law is used to punish those found to be guilty of committing crimes. Whereas civil law generally involves disputes between individuals and/or organizations, criminal law addresses crimes or behaviors that break the rules created by society.
When to Hire a Civil Attorney
There are several reasons as to why businesses and individuals may sue or be sued for civil law violations. Some civil law disputes are resolved through mediation or settled in a small claims court, in which a party to the lawsuit will represent themselves.
It may be necessary for a civil lawsuit to be heard and decided by a civil court. This is especially true when the matter could lead to serious legal consequences, such paying civil fines or a large amount of monetary damages. In such circumstances, it may be necessary to hire a civil attorney.
An example of this would be a products liability lawsuit. Products liability cases often involve complex legal issues, and can result in high damages awards. A civil attorney who has experience with products liability issues can help defend the businesses being sued for defective products, or improper warning labels. Or, the civil attorney could help private individuals sue a business based on these same claims.
Another example would be child custody issues. A civil attorney can protect a parent’s rights over their child, and ensure that a parent is not completely cut off from seeing their child. In cases involving child or domestic abuse, a civil lawyer can assist the non-abusive parent in gaining full custody rights.
In terms of business law, a civil attorney may also be the best option when a business is involved in a real estate transaction. An example of this would be acquiring another business, or purchasing a piece of property. A civil attorney can negotiate with a landlord or the opposing counsel on behalf of their client. Additionally, they can draft and review final agreements, as well as provide representation in court should any disputes arise during the negotiation process.
To simplify, when a civil lawsuit may result in significant damages or severe consequences and contains complex legal issues, a party should hire a civil attorney.
What to Expect from Your Civil Attorney
When working with an attorney for civil lawsuits, you should expect them to handle all of the major aspects of the lawsuit you are involved with. This is true whether you are the plaintiff or the defendant.
From the start, during the pretrial stages of a lawsuit, a civil attorney can assist in the discovery process. This process may include but not be limited to the following:
- Deposing essential witnesses;
- Hiring expert witnesses as needed;
- Creating a discovery plan;
- Serving discovery requests to the opposing party; and
- Filing documents with the court.
If the disputing parties cannot agree on a settlement, or refuse to settle the matter, a civil attorney can handle the trial process. This may involve:
- Filing motions during the trial;
- Arguing on behalf of their client during court sessions;
- Participating in jury selection;
- Submitting new evidence under certain circumstances; and
- Questioning witnesses who are providing live testimony.
Some other examples of what to expect from your civil attorneys include:
- Assistance in drafting settlement agreements;
- Filing appeals once the trial has concluded;
- Filing a separate lawsuit, or joining another party to the existing lawsuit; and
- Recovering various civil legal remedies.
Civil attorneys are also obligated to uphold specific professional, ethical, and legal standards when representing their client. An example of this would be how a lawyer is required to exercise professional judgment on behalf of their client. What this means is that they cannot represent a prospective client whose interests would conflict with those of an already existing client. This also means that they must not accept financial interests from clients other than their standard legal fees. Doing so would be considered accepting a bribe.
Civil attorneys also have a duty to maintain the confidences of a client. This means that the attorney cannot:
- Disclose case information to outside parties;
- Disclose a client’s secrets in order to gain personal benefits; and/or
- Reveal specific details for which a client did not give their consent.
You should expect your civil attorney to inform you of all of your settlement options or resolutions. You should also expect them to honestly assess your chances of winning your lawsuit. A civil attorney should advise you about how their fee structure works for billing purposes, then bill according to the agreed upon fee structure.
It is important to note that you have ultimate control over your lawsuit; meaning, you decide who to sue, when to file suit, and when to settle. However, you should defer to your lawyer’s judgment in all legal decisions, and adhere to any advice regarding the overall strategy of your lawsuit. If you feel you cannot trust your attorney, you should find another.
How Much Does a Civil Attorney Cost?
How much any attorney will cost will vary, depending on several factors:
- Average fees for the attorney’s location;
- How much work a specific case could take; and
- The experience and reputation of the attorney handling your case.
Another factor that could influence how much a civil attorney may cost is whether they are part of a law firm, or practice on their own. If they belong to a firm, other people may handle parts of your case, such as a paralegal.
Something else to consider is the type of fee structure that an attorney uses. An example of this would be how a civil attorney who takes a case on a contingency fee basis will not receive any money until the end of the case. And, only if they win. Because of this, it will cost the client only administrative costs if the attorney loses the case.
Alternatively, a civil attorney billing by the hour will be paid on an ongoing basis. This would continue throughout all stages of a case, regardless of the outcome. Hourly fees vary widely, from $100 to $1,000 an hour, and sometimes even higher in larger cities.
The jurisdiction hearing the case or where the attorney practices law could influence how much an attorney may cost. An example of this would be how some states limit the amount of attorney fees that a lawyer can recover, or place a cap on damages in personal injury lawsuits.
Do You Need a Civil Attorney?
If you are facing a lawsuit as either the plaintiff or the defendant, you should consider consulting with experienced and local civil lawyers. It is important that you consult with an area attorney, because they will be best suited to understanding your state’s specific laws regarding the matter. An experienced civil lawyer can help you through every step of the process, and will represent you in court as needed.