Most of the lawyers portrayed in television, film, and fiction are litigators. While on-screen lawyers are usually shown in the courtroom, most actual civil litigators spend most of their time in their offices, conducting pre-trial discovery and writing motions, briefs and correspondence. Litigation is described as "the act or process of bringing or contesting a legal action in court." An innumerable number of civil issues are subject to litigation, but some of the most commonly litigated issues involve business disputes, contracts, the environment, employment, personal injury, and real estate. For example, a civil litigator might represent a plaintiff who has been harmed by a large corporation's improper disposal of toxic waste or a defendant in a suit to determine the boundaries between neighboring pieces of real property.
Litigators dedicate a substantial amount of their time to preparing for trial, even though the vast majority of civil cases end in settlement. They do this because they know that a certain level of trial preparation can help them attain a favorable settlement. As Christina Kelly '98, an insurance defense litigator at Polsinelli Shughart PC notes, "All of your effort and preparation from day one is with an eye to walking into the courtroom. When you're researching and analyzing an issue in the beginning of a case, you are already forecasting, 'If I had to go to in to court tomorrow and argue this case to a judge, what are our chances of success?' That kind of guides what you do. There's no better way to settle a case than preparing it for trial."
Civil litigation can provide attorneys with a great deal of satisfaction. Because each case is different, civil litigation practice is exciting and provides ample opportunity for attorneys to be creative. Litigators like that they feel they are helping their clients in concrete ways and that their practice exposes them to a wide variety of subjects. "I think the most rewarding thing is that I'm constantly diving into areas of information and education that I never thought I would," says Justin Gingery '99, who represents plaintiffs in personal injury cases. "There's not a day that goes by when I don't learn something, and a lot of times it has nothing to do with the law ... I learn things even in the automotive world or the engineering world, for example." Litigation can also be a challenge because crises inevitably rise that require immediate attention, matters can take years to resolve, and materials that took many hours to prepare are often never used. This is all outweighed, litigators note, by the sense of fulfillment that comes from winning or successfully settling a case.