Lawyers with a “litigation” practice have one significant element in common, however diverse their clients’ activity and objectives. Litigators make arguments about legal rights and remedies to the appropriate authority. Typically, that authority is a judge or jury in a courtroom, although the process of litigation actually begins long before the courtroom argument and often ends well beyond it.
The first distinction between the types of litigation practices is between criminal and civil litigation. Civil litigation generally concerns disputes between two or more parties about money or the failure of one party to do something, as in a breach of contract case. Civil litigation may also be about redressing the harm one individual has caused another, as in a claim of negligence causing personal injury or damage to a business or to a person’s property. Criminal proceedings seek to punish or prevent harms to the public, and the person accused of a crime risks the loss of personal liberty as well as monetary damages if the court decides against him. In contrast to the customarily separate roles for criminal prosecutors and defense lawyers, who typically spend all or a significant portion of their careers on one side of the bar or the other, civil litigators may both make and defend claims on a regular basis. Their clients may sometimes seek to initiate a lawsuit and at other times may need to defend themselves against claims filed by others.
Practicing lawyers differ in the relative importance of developing substantive expertise while in law school. Some believe that it is important for students to sharpen their analytical skills by taking a wide range of substantive law courses. These practitioners do not really consider litigation a separate discipline, since it is equally important for a lawyer to know relevant legal rules whether handling a dispute or structuring a transaction. They therefore recommend that students take substantive law courses that interest them in as many areas as they can, in order to hone the skills of logical reasoning and analytical thinking. Other practitioners believe that students interested in litigation as a career should focus on developing necessary skills and an understanding of the process of litigation before developing substantive expertise. Courses that focus on the process of litigation often address both the substantive doctrine of procedure and skills development. If you are sure that your career focus is litigation, we believe you should do both. Select a wide range of substantive law courses as well as courses on procedure.
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