What Does a Civil Attorney Do?

Posted on: October 10, 2020

Civil lawsuits are very different from a criminal trial and they require a different sort of attorney.

But what does a civil attorney do?

 

When most people think of attorneys, they imagine the attorneys they see in the media. Legal dramas on the screen and in novels usually depict criminal attorneys prosecuting or defending people accused of a crime.

Criminal cases are the perfect fodder for those entertaining plots we know and love. And in real life, most criminal trials turn on a few facts, so they can be resolved with a relatively short trial.

But there is an entirely separate category of trial in the legal system: civil cases.

 

What Is a Civil Case?

All legal cases are disputes between two parties: the “defendant” and the “plaintiff.” In criminal cases, the plaintiff is a law enforcement agency bringing an allegation against an individual. A civil case, on the other hand, is a dispute between two individuals.

While criminal cases impact someone’s liberty—such as whether the defendant will be going to jail—a civil case’s chief remedy is usually a recovery of money. The money is meant to make the victim “whole” as well as deter the defendant from further harm.

How is a civil case different from a criminal case?

Instead of Law & Order, think of Erin Brockovich’s assistance with suing the Pacific Gas and Electric Company for the harm that they caused to nearby residents. 

Rather than charging Pacific Gas and Electric Company’s CEO with a crime, the lawsuit’s aim was to provide the victims with some level of compensation for what happened to them and deter the corporation from doing more harm in the future.

 

What Does a Civil Attorney Do?

John Grisham novels and movie adaptations have likely given you some idea of what a criminal attorney does. But what does a civil attorney do?

A civil attorney has a much different task before them than a criminal defense attorney or state prosecutor. As a result, they need a very different skill set.

Here are just some of the ways that a civil case differs from the criminal cases you may be familiar with.

Evidence

One of the first steps in any trial is drafting a written discovery to get a general understanding of the facts of the case and the witnesses that may be called. This written discovery is a launching point for the rest of the case.

Civil cases usually involve a more extensive discovery of facts. In most civil suits, experts are required to clarify factual issues. The civil attorney must retain the right experts, meet with those experts, and discuss the issues so they can better understand the case.

For example, in a motor vehicle crash case, an accident reconstruction specialist may get involved to assist in recreating the crash.

Civil suits are much longer and typically have more to present than a criminal trial.

Additionally, civil attorneys must prepare to depose the other side’s expert. 

Perhaps the most delicate are personal injury trials. Because of the nature of the victim’s injuries, a good personal injury attorney must be well-versed in the medical issues surrounding their client so they can present the best case. Having experience working with various injuries is important in civil cases since so much of the case hinges on physical injuries. 

Perhaps just as important is understanding the position of the defense’s medical experts, who will universally state that the victim’s injuries were not caused by the incident in question. For a civil law attorney, being able to predict, understand, and defend against the opposing party’s evidence can mean the difference between a successful outcome or a failed lawsuit.

Mediation

In Florida, all civil cases are required to go through mediation, something that criminal cases do not encounter. 

A mediation is essentially a settlement conference, where the parties meet and try to bridge the gap and come to an agreement.

Mediations are structured much differently than a formal trial in a courtroom, but a good civil attorney will prepare for mediation in the same way that they would prepare for a trial.

Because the attorneys at Beers & Gordon have more than 40 years of experience handling cases for insurers, we can anticipate every argument that the defense will make at mediation. This is important to anticipate and counter these defenses, when applicable.

Length of Trial

Criminal trials are typically much shorter than civil trials; some only last a day or two. They involve limited witnesses and, in many cases, criminal defendants do not even testify in their own case.

Civil cases, on the other hand, can sometimes last weeks. A complicated medical malpractice or product liability trial can last a month. Because so much of a civil trial rests on expert testimony, it is not uncommon for expert witnesses to testify for several hours on a specific topic. This is because—in addition to answering questions pertaining to the case—these experts need to educate the jury on their area of specialization.

Additionally, criminal defendants have the right to a speedy trial. Civil parties do not have the same rights and can often wait months, if not years, to finally get to trial on a civil case.

 

Conclusion

While not as glorified as a nail biting courtroom drama, civil cases are often complex, interesting, and nuanced. 

Civil cases are like a puzzle that your legal counsel must assemble through painstaking research and preparation. And while most civil cases don’t progress to trial, some do. And it’s important to have a civil attorney with the experience and confidence to litigate your case in a court of law.

At Beers & Gordon, P.A., you’ll never meet with a paralegal or case worker. From your first consultation, you’ll receive one-on-one attention from a licensed attorney with decades of legal experience.

Our sincere hope is that none of our clients ever need to file a civil suit against an individual or business. But when the need arises, your success may rest on the quality of your civil law attorney. Make sure you are soliciting advice and assistance from a lawyer who understands the unique complexities of civil law and how to fight your case in court.

Schedule a free consultation today to learn more.