AnnaMarie Houlis
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So you think you need a litigation lawyer — but what exaclty is a litigation lawyer, how much will one cost you and where can you even find one?

What Is a Litigation Lawyer?

Litigation lawyers, also known as litigation attorneys, litigators or trial lawyers, represent plaintiffs and defendants in civil lawsuits; they are experts in protecting their clients’ rights through the courts. In short, this means that they manage all phases of the ligitation, from the investigation, pleadings and discovery all the way through the pre-trial, trial, settlement and appeal processes.

In other words, a litigation lawyer will work closely with you through the process of filing and pursuing a lawsuit, constantly there to walk you through all of the nuances. At the start of working with a litigation attorney, they should also share advice on whether your case is best suited for court or if it can be better handled outside of court — and if it is a court-necessary case, what your next steps will be. If it is not suited for court, that's because they don't believe you'll have a successful case; simply, some cases are better handled in mediation.

A litigation lawyer's step-by-step responsibilities and procedures may vary based on the case and their experience, but all litigation lawyers must have achieved their juris doctor degree from a law school that's been acrredited by the American Bar Association. They must have earned a four-year degree in addition to three years of law school, and then have passed the bar exam to be admitted to the bar in the state in which they choose to practice (and, sometimes, neighboring states, as well, to reach a wider potential clientele base and increased job opportunities).

To be clear, a litigation lawyer is different from a transactional lawyer. Speci

"A litigation lawyer knows how to present your side of a dispute to a judge to protect your rights and maximize your chances of getting a favourable decision — but a transactional lawyer tells you what your rights and obligations are when you deal with anyone other than the courts or tribunals," according to the Yunusov Law Professional Corporation. "For example, when you close a business deal, you want the deal to go as much as possible the way you understand it. A transactional lawyer will help you draft the contract so you have a legal leg to stand on if the deal goes off the track. A well-drafted contract will 'stand up in court,' and the courts will enforce it as closely to your vision as possible. [But] a transactional lawyer will usually not enforce the contract. You will hire a litigation lawyer to do it because it’s the litigation lawyer’s job to know how the courts work and what’s the best way to argue your case before a judge."

To put it simply, transactional lawyers are there to advise you on dealing with others on common terms, while litigation lawyers help you to impose your terms on others.

Fortunately, most civil cases don't go to trial. But, if they do, trial is, ultimately, the last chance for a litigation lawyer to make your case to a judge. So a good litigator will always prepare for trial, even if they don't anticipate that your case will end up there.

When Should I Hire a Litigation Lawyer?

If you're looking to file a legal claim, you'll want to hire a litigation lawyer. Again, it's important to note the difference between a litigation and a transactional lawyer, here. You'll want to speak with a litigation lawyer for filing a lawsuit or settling a business dispute — say you are fired from your job due to discrimination, for example.

While you may not end up actually hiring a litigator, as they may advise you that your case is not suitable for court, a litigator can still advise you on and walk you through the legal details of your case (such as pitfalls or defences on the other side) and your options. If they're professional, they'll be honest with you about whether or not their services will be valuable to you or if you should look elsewhere to hire another lawyer or pursue your case outside of the courtroom.

Likewise, if you're named as a defendant in a lawsuit, you'll also want to hire a litigation lawyer. Perhaps an employee is suing you for discrimination. You don't want to risk trying to defend claims on your own.

Either way, remember that just because you speak with or even hire a litigation lawyer does not necessarily mean that you're going to have to go all the way to court with your case. A professional litigator should have ample tools to help you first try to negotiate settlements, mediation and arbitration to avoid the headaches and exspenses of trial.

How Much Does a Litigation Lawyer Cost?

Litigation lawyers are expensive. But they take different approaches as to how they bill and what they charge. For example, one litigation lawyer may charge by the hour (which could certainly add up quickly), while another litigation lawyer may charge a contingency. A contingency means that you won't pay the lawyer anything up front but, if you win the case, they will take a percentage of what they win for you — often, this is about one-third of the total amount.

It's important to talk with different litigation lawyers to figure out what the most cost effective option will be for you, since a contingency might end up being a bigger chunk of change than a few hours worth of work. But if the case drags on for months or years (and they often can), paying hourly is going to hurt a lot more.

Note that, if your lawyer takes your case on a contingency basis, it's probably because you have a strong case. If they didn't believe that you have a solid chance of winning the case, they wouldn't waste their time taking your case for no profit.

Also note that you'll still have to pay added fees throughout the process, regardless of the payment route your litigation lawyer goes. You may need to pay fees for experts, court filings, court reporters and more, for example.

What Should I Look for in a Litigation Lawyer?

A litigation lawyer should be by your side for the entire process of filing and pursuing a lawsuit. Therefore, they should be abreast of the law, procedures and how the court works. Of course, most litigation lawyers are aware, since they're accredited. But there are certainly some lawyers who are better than others.

A good litigation lawyer will possess the following qualities:

  • A good command over legal and technical principles with the ability to present facts, law and strategies reasonably and persuasively
  • Excellent and consistent communication skills so they keep you informed in a way that you can understand
  • A willingness to help you understand the process in its entirety, as well as an exhaustive list of your options, even if you don't pursue all of those options
  • A rational sense of the case at hand, so they can help you manage expectations for the results of your lawsuit
  • A strong attention to detail so that, when you provide them with your story, they cross check all the facts
  • An ability to establish rapport with you so you feel at ease approaching them and can trust their word
  • Negotiation skills for making reasoned cases in favor of your interests
  • Flexibility for handling your case
  • A genuine interest in and care for your case, so they're determined to help you win
  • Creativity and innovation when it comes to pursuing other options to avoid going to trial
  • A willingness to settle your case (and comfort doing it) if it's not necessary to go to court
  • A willingness to go to trial for you and your issue at hand (and experience in the court, since not all litigation lawyers will go to court over the course of their careers)

Where Can I Find a Litigation Lawyer?

You can find a litigation lawyer by contacting your area's department of consumer affairs, through sites like Lawyers.com, by checking out the American Bar Association and by reaching out to local law firms directly.

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AnnaMarie Houlis is a feminist, a freelance journalist and an adventure aficionado with an affinity for impulsive solo travel. She spends her days writing about women’s empowerment from around the world. You can follow her work on her blog, HerReport.org, and follow her journeys on Instagram @her_report, Twitter @herreportand Facebook.