When most people think of the word “civil,” they often think of “polite.” However, this is not the application of the word when speaking of civil law or civil law attorneys or civil attorneys. Civil attorneys generally address and solve the legal problems encountered by the citizens of society. These problems typically arise everyday between people in a social or business setting.
Thus, civil attorneys are sometimes said to resolve “private wrongs” between two or more generally law-abiding citizens. Civil law disputes usually have to do with these interpersonal conflicts, or with conflicts involving businesses. The legal system is essentially divided into two branches, civil law and criminal law. Civil law is different from criminal law because it involves conduct that breaks criminal laws or statutes somehow (more on this below).
Civil attorneys practice in almost any field that people interact and conduct business in, and they can cover a very wide range of legal issues and topics.
Civil lawyers are very widespread in the legal field. They may practice in a wide range of areas, including:
- Personal injury law
- Employment law;
- Family law;
- Business and finance law;
- Immigration law
- Real estate law;
- Health and medicine/medical law;
- Landlord/tenant law, and more.
When it comes to the actual practice of law, some civil law attorneys may practice in a wide range of areas. For instance, a single lawyer or law firm may handle a combination of practice areas, such as personal injury cases, family law, real estate law.
Some lawyers might limit their practice to only one area of law, especially if the area of law is known to be complex and have individual specializations within it. This may be more common for certain areas of law such as immigration law or real estate law, which might not have much overlap with other areas of law.
Still others might specialize in or have special training and certifications in very specific areas of law. This may include areas of law such as securities law or tax law.
Civil law is a distinct area of law from criminal law. Civil law typically deals with disputes between individuals and/or organizations. In other words, they are disputes between private parties. Criminal law, on the other hand, deals with crimes.
These are behaviors which break the rules society has created for the safety and well-being of its members. Criminal law generally imposes heavier sentences on the guilty, with punishments ranging from community service to the death penalty.
Civil law can also result in heavy fines or other consequences, but the sentences can often be far lighter in comparison. As such, criminal law often comes with additional protections for the defendant. For instance, the reading of Miranda Rights before an interrogation is an excellent example of such a protection. In addition, the burden of proof for guilt is higher in criminal law cases than in civil lawsuits.
Note that civil law and criminal law are not necessarily exclusive. It can be possible to be sued and fined in a civil law proceeding and then sentenced in criminal law, or vice versa. Usually, if a person has already been found guilty in a criminal court of law, it will typically be easier to sue them and find them liable in a civil law court.
Civil law attorneys may perform a wide range of tasks and legal actions. These will of course depend on the type of violation or civil complaint involved. Generally speaking, most civil law attorneys will be well-versed in performing a wide range of tasks, including:
- Meeting with potential clients to learn what their legal issue is;
- Advising a potential client on their legal options prior to a lawsuit;
- Obtaining documents and other items that might be used as evidence during a civil lawsuit (this process is known as “discovery”);
- Performing legal research before trial;
- Filing various pre-trial motions, and filing court documents for a lawsuit;
- Reviewing and submitting evidence to the court in preparation for a lawsuit (there are very specific procedures for doing this);
- Conducting opening and closing arguments during trial;
- Examining witnesses during trial and raising various objections (but this applies mainly to attorneys who litigate);
- Presenting legal arguments during trial;
- Filing motions during the trial;
- Arguing for various legal remedies, such as damages awards;
- Handling post-trial matters, including appeals; and
- Various other legal tasks.
Thus, civil law attorneys need to be familiar with local procedural laws for trials, as well as the various laws that might be applied in a particular lawsuit. Some lawsuits might involve the participation of several attorneys for a single case.
For instance, some of the lawyers might help with the research process before trial, while another lawyer or lawyers might handle the in-court arguments. These details all depend on the exact case, as well as the needs and preferences of the client.
Civil law matters can be complex, and each state will handle the cases differently. You may need to find a civil lawyer in your area who can help you with the filing and with the various stages of trial. Your attorney can conduct the research needed for your case and will be able to represent you and guide you through the lawsuit process.