It has been said that civil litigation is the “sport of kings.” Any lawsuit that falls outside the scope of the criminal realm is considered a civil lawsuit. These lawsuits encompass many diverse areas of law, including but not limited to, personal injury, wrongful death, divorce, employment law, toxic tort, product liability, medical malpractice and intellectual property law. Unlike mediation, civil litigation is an ambitious endeavor that can be difficult and costly to pursue, and not an expeditious road to travel toward an ultimate resolution.
Civil litigation is the single most popular area of practice among attorneys, paralegals, law clerks and other legal support staff. Litigators represent individuals, large and small companies and other entities and strive to provide competent legal services and zealous representation to their clients. Litigators often take cases from inception to a final verdict at a bench or jury trial. While litigation is one of the highest-paying legal practice areas, it is a passion for the work that keeps many litigators working in the litigation arena.
Is the litigation field for you? Litigation allows for tremendous personal and career skills advancement, professional respect, excellent compensation and benefits, the potential for bonuses and a coveted seat in the front of the courtroom. If you are contemplating a career in litigation, these advantages of working in litigation can help you choose the right career path. Be sure to also review Part II of this article, the cons of litigation practice as well as The Role of the Litigation Attorney and The Role of the Litigation Paralegal.
Assisting clients in litigation is rewarding. During the course of litigation, you will become the client’s closest advocate. Clients will call you with questions and seek explanations regarding complex and foreign legal concepts. Typically, those working within the litigation realm develop close-knit working relationships with their clients. It can be very rewarding to help a client navigate a complex legal matter and obtain a successful outcome.
Each case tells a different story. While litigation cases generally follow a standard course through the litigation pipeline, each case tells a new story. Diving into a new client’s file is much like reading a mystery book. You will quickly ascertain the “who,” “what,” “when,” “where,” “why” and “how” of the matter. The diversity of each case helps to diffuse the monotony that is sometimes associated with certain aspects of litigation.
Litigation pays well. Attorneys specializing in civil litigation (also known as “litigators” or “trial lawyers”) are among the highest paid legal professionals in the industry. In addition to excellent compensation and benefits, there is potential for bonuses and other perks.
Litigation work is diverse. When you work in civil litigation, you develop a general understanding of the litigation process, litigation rules and procedures, standard deadlines and the forms for pleadings, discovery requests, demands, chronologies and other legal documents. On any given day, you will perform an array of diverse duties – from advising clients and preparing witnesses to performing research and drafting documents – which makes for an interesting work day.
Litigation is relatively recession-proof. A recent report released by the National Center for State Courts found that the down economy prompted a sharp rise in the number of civil cases filed in state courts, an increase of 106 million more cases than the previous year. Litigation is trending upward, signaling job security in a challenging legal climate.
Litigation work breeds independence. Once you gain litigation experience and earn your supervising attorney’s trust, you will become more competent and independent. You will work more proactively and handle a variety of tasks without being prompted. The litigation realm is a great place to expand your independence and hone your career skills.
Litigation provides an opportunity to gain trial experience. While attorneys, paralegals and legal staffers who work in other practice areas never see the inside of a courtroom, those working in litigation often do. Litigators advise clients, develop case strategies, depose witnesses and advocate in the courtroom. Litigation paralegals learn the intricacies associated with trial preparation and the compilation and assembly of trial binders and blow ups. They attend trial and assist with voir dire and the indirect presentation of the case. Trial is a challenging and competitive niche and one that can be a great deal of fun.
Litigation is exhilarating and rewarding. If you work at a small to mid-size firm, you will likely handle files throughout the entire litigation process, from inception through trial. Handling a case from the onset to a final resolution or trial verdict can be extremely exhilarating and personally rewarding.
Litigation offers transferrable career skills. A litigation background allows you to learn and hone a diverse skill set. These skills will serve you well in other areas of law and provide you with transferrable career skills if you should ever decide to leave the litigation arena. Typically, an individual who thrives in the fast-paced world of litigation will do well in other practice areas. Litigation experience will also help you to expand your general knowledge base and become more well-rounded.
Litigation inspires passion. Whether you represent individuals or large corporations, you develop close knit working relationships and a strong sense of passion for your chosen area. If you typically represent plaintiffs, you become very pro-plaintiff; those representing the defense side become defense-oriented. You become passionate about advocating the rights of others throughout the judicial process and feel like an integral part of an important team. As a result, you will develop a great deal of personal passion and enthusiasm for your career.
Theodore Roosevelt best summed up the passion that fuels litigation when he stated:
"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat."
As President Roosevelt so eloquently stated, there is nothing more gratifying than “spending yourself in a worthy cause,” and litigation is certainly no exception.
Jamie Collins is a senior level litigation paralegal at Yosha Cook Shartzer & Tisch in Indianapolis, Indiana, where she handles predominantly personal injury and wrongful death cases. She is also a professional writer, an avid blogger, and the founder of The Paralegal Society, a social forum created to educate, motivate and inspire paralegals all across the country. Please feel free to send your comments to Jamie at: firstname.lastname@example.org.