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Litigator — A Definition

Sarah Edwards | November 29, 2022

Sarah Edwards
Legal Expert
Sarah Edwards, BS

Sarah Edwards is a professional researcher and writer specializing in legal content. An Emerson College alumna, she holds a Bachelor of Science in Communication from the prestigious Boston institution.

Edited by Hannah Locklear

Hannah Locklear
Editor at SoloSuit
Hannah Locklear, BA

Hannah Locklear is SoloSuit’s Marketing and Impact Manager. With an educational background in Linguistics, Spanish, and International Development from Brigham Young University, Hannah has also worked as a legal support specialist for several years.

Summary: Generally speaking, a litigator is a lawyer that specializes in civil cases but can take on other types of law cases as well.

Are you involved in a lawsuit or thinking about filing a lawsuit? Do you like watching TV shows about legal affairs, like “Law and Order” or “Better Call Saul”? If so, you’ve probably heard of the legal term litigator, but you may not know what it means. People often interchange the terms litigator and trial lawyer, but they mean different things.

What is a litigator?

A litigator handles all the legal process aspects, including investigation, pre-trial work, discovery, pleadings, negotiation of settlements, trial representation, and appeal. You may also refer to a litigator as an attorney or lawyer.

Litigators accept various types of cases, depending on the focus of their practice. For instance, some focus on personal injury law, while others handle criminal or commercial law. There are numerous types of law that an attorney can select from.

What is a trial lawyer?

A trial lawyer can also be a litigator. They may perform all the actions that a litigator does, like investigating and developing a case strategy.

However, some attorneys choose to concentrate solely on the trial process. They may possess certain skills that make them very effective in a courtroom versus handling the process part of a lawsuit.

Most trial lawyers who aren’t involved in litigation spend their working hours in court. When they’re not in court, they review the information given by litigators to formulate their trial strategy or prepare witnesses for courtroom deposition.

Litigators follow an investigation process

The investigation process of a litigator’s work typically takes up most of their time. When they accept a case, they inspect each element of their client’s claims. For instance, in a personal injury case involving a car accident, they’ll likely examine the police report, obtain videos from the crash scene, and review medical records.

Using the documentation they obtain, a litigator may identify potential witnesses or experts who can assist in their case strategy. For instance, they may seek help from a medical expert or a witness who saw the crash.

The investigation process helps the litigator determine how they want to portray the case during negotiation, pleading, or trial.

What are pleadings?

All participants in a lawsuit must file pleadings in court, whether they are the plaintiff or the defendant. A pleading is a formal, legal document that argues the side of each party’s case.

The plaintiff of a case will plead with the court for assistance in punishing the defendant for their alleged wrongs. For instance, they may file a pleading such as a Complaint to request that the court grants them damages for an accident or send someone to jail for committing a crime.

What is discovery?

Once the litigator completes their investigation and gives a pleading, the discovery process ensues. During discovery, litigators typically interview others involved in the case, including the opposing parties. Litigators may also identify other witnesses before the trial begins.

As they uncover additional information, litigators can file motions to the court. For instance, they may ask the court to admit evidence or delay the trial if specific circumstances arise.

How does a settlement work?

Litigators often seek to keep cases out of the courtroom if possible. A trial is typically lengthy, expensive, and may not end with the results they desire. A settlement can alleviate the costs that a trial requires and resolve the case much more quickly than a trial would.

Settlements are prevalent in all types of legal claims. For instance, a personal injury case may resolve through settlement if both parties can reach an agreement.

In a case involving debt, a defendant may offer a settlement to stop the lawsuit and other collection activities.

Settlements aren’t always possible, but they can alleviate the caseload in the courtroom and result in a satisfactory ending for both parties in a lawsuit.

A litigator has specific responsibilities during trial

The litigator will represent their client in court if a case goes to trial. The litigator begins the trial process by selecting jury members, providing opening and closing statements, and directing the client's legal strategy. They’ll question witnesses and cross-examine witnesses brought by the opposing client.

Litigators also present evidence to the jury during the trial. They’ll show the proof to the jury and explain why it’s essential to the case.

A litigator will also answer requests from the judge and handle any paperwork necessary throughout the trial.

Litigators can handle appeals if necessary

Sometimes, a party to a lawsuit will disagree with the outcome of the case. If the litigator feels there are grounds for a potential appeal, they’ll handle the paperwork to move the case forward. Typically, an appeal can only move forward if the court made a legal error during the trial.

In short, litigators handle the legal process from end to end for their clients. They’re necessary to ensure that their clients get fair representation for their case, regardless of whether they represent the plaintiff or the defendant.

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