Simply put, a trial attorney is an attorney who practices law in a trial court. Trial attorneys represent clients in civil cases. In these cases, people involved are not referred to as defendants, because it is not a criminal trial. They are retained specifically to sue another party in civil court. It is sometimes said that civil attorneys resolve “private wrongs,” such as interpersonal conflicts or conflicts involving business. Trial attorneys may also be referred to as litigation attorneys.

Civil law is different from criminal law. In criminal law, the state or county will bring charges against an individual. In contrast, civil law presides over one person or party bringing a lawsuit against another party or person. 

In general, civil law results in lighter sentences and consequences when compared to civil law. As such, criminal law often comes with additional protections for the defendant, and the burden of proof of guilt is higher in criminal law cases than in civil lawsuits. Although the two differ, they are not necessarily exclusive, as it is possible to be sued and fined in a civil law proceeding, and then sentenced in a criminal trial afterwards. 

What Specifically Does a Trial Attorney Do?

Trial attorneys practice law in almost any field in which people interact and conduct business. Some examples of the areas of law in which they practice include:

  • Personal injury;
  • Employment;
  • Family;
  • Business and finance; 
  • Immigration;
  • Real estate;
  • Health and medicine/medical; and
  • Landlord or Tenant.

A single trial attorney or law firm may handle any combination of practice areas, such as family and real estate law in addition to personal injury cases.

Generally speaking, a trial attorney performs many different tasks, such as:

  • Meeting with and advising potential clients on their legal options prior to a lawsuit;
  • Obtaining documents and other items that could be used as evidence during a lawsuit (also referred to as discovery);
  • Performing legal research before the trial;
  • Filing various pre trial motions;
  • Interviewing clients as well as other witnesses and parties in order to build the case;
  • Handling all correspondence with the other party’s attorney(s) as well as the court;
  • Engage in settlement negotiations; and
  • Present the case in court before a judge and jury.

These are just a few examples of what civil trial attorneys do. Sometimes they will also need to hire expert witnesses, argue for various legal remedies, and handle post trial matters such as appeals. Trial attorneys must be familiar with local procedural law for trials, as well as the various laws that may be applied to a particular lawsuit.

How Much does a Trial Attorney Cost?

In short, it depends. Several factors influence the cost of an attorney. These costs vary based on the area of law that your claim encompasses, the difficulty of the case, the amount of experience the attorney has, and the amount of time spent pursuing or defending the lawsuit. Another influencing factor is the market rate for attorneys in your area. 

The cost of your attorney will also be affected by what sort of fee structure you choose for representation. There are three main types of fee structures utilized by attorneys:

  • Contingency: If an attorney takes your case on a contingency fee basis, they will recover an agreed upon percentage of your total recovery. This is typically about thirty percent. Contingency fees allow the client to afford pursuing a costly case, even when they do have the funds to afford court or litigation costs. The attorney essentially agrees to cover the costs of a case in exchange for an agreed-upon percentage of your total recovery amount. Clients are not charged any upfront costs, and do not pay anything unless the case is successful;
  • Hourly: It is most typical in the legal industry for attorneys to bill an hourly rate as the most common type of fee arrangement. The attorney will charge you for each hour or every portion of the hour they spend working on your case. You may be billed at a lower hourly rate for work performed by the attorney’s paralegal or other support staff. Hourly fees vary greatly, and are not always an indication of the quality of representation you will be receiving; and
  • Flat Rate: A flat fee rate structure means that the attorney charges the client a fixed, total fee for their services and representation. Flat rate structures are generally offered when a case is relatively simple or routine, such as writing a basic will or an uncontested divorce. They are not generally offered for court cases, or personal injury cases. It is important to ask exactly what services and expenses are covered by the flat rate, what is not. A flat fee may only cover certain things, in which case the client would need to pay more for additional services.

It is important to note that some attorneys may be willing to work out individual payment plans, or pay in installments.

When an attorney has set a payment structure for a client, they will put the details into a written agreement. This agreement is legally binding, and indicates what you can expect from your attorney as well as what your attorney can expect from you. It is an extremely important document that outlines the scope of representation, as well as the specific services the attorney intends to provide in exchange for their fees. Before signing any agreements, it is important to ensure that all of the legal services you require are outlined in the written agreement. 

Additionally, there may be extra fees that an attorney charges their client, so you should not be afraid to ask about such expenses. Extra fees or charges vary by law firm, but some common examples include initial consultation fees and retainer fees.

Should I Hire a Trial Attorney?

As can be seen, someone can sue or be sued under almost any non-criminal theory of law. If you believe you have been wronged, financially or otherwise, it would be in your best interest to hire a skilled and knowledgeable trial attorney

Further, litigation is a complex and lengthy process requiring representation. An experienced trial attorney will be able to provide that representation, and can help ensure you do not miss any important deadlines.