How To Hire A Litigation Attorney Staff Profile Picture
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Litigation, or handling a dispute through the courts system, isn’t necessarily the most convenient or cost-effective method for resolving legal disputes, but in some cases, it’s unavoidable. Potential plaintiffs should consider hiring a litigator following injury accidents, instances of professional malpractice, breaches of contract, financial disputes, and negligence claims. Businesses or individuals who have received a notice of intent to sue or are facing an impending lawsuit should consult a litigator as soon as possible before the issue escalates. Here's how to find and hire the right litigation attorney for your situation, whether you are contemplating filing a lawsuit, or you are being sued.

  1. Determine if and why you need legal representation.
  2. Know what's involved in the lawsuit process and how long it might take.
  3. Identify what type of litigation attorney is right for you.
  4. Begin researching litigators, and look for these qualifications.
  5. Take advantage of your initial consultation to ask these important questions.
  6. Understand the cost of hiring a litigation attorney, and how and when you will pay.

Determine if and why you need legal representation.

Litigators handle every type of dispute imaginable, especially those involving businesses, shareholders, and employees. Litigation lawyers may focus on contracts, product liability, and other specialized practice areas, such as the following:

  • Intellectual property, including patents, trademarks, and copyrights

  • Professional negligence, including medical malpractice and breach of fiduciary duty

  • Liability, such as manufacturing defects and breach of warranty claims

  • Discrimination, employment disputes, and non-compete violations

  • Environmental law and pollution claims

  • Defamation, libel, and slander cases

Whether you want to file a lawsuit against another party, or you are being sued by another party, it is vital to have an experienced litigator on your side.

Know what's involved in the lawsuit process, and how long it might take. 

Filing a lawsuit is just the first step in what is often a long journey to legal resolution. Just how long that journey is may depend on many factors, including the complexity of the case and the number of individuals or organizations named in the suit, whether the case is filed in state or federal court (which have very different resources and dockets), and the probability of pre-trial settlement. It's important to understand that most lawsuits take a minimum of one full year. It's equally important to understand that, due to attorney caseloads, court date availability and other factors, activity on most lawsuits is periodic, rather than constant, with stages of intense activity and long lapses in activity in between. Generally, for both the plaintiff and the defendant, the lawsuit process involves these steps:

1. Pleadings

This is the first step, and involves submitting a complaint that explains the jurisdiction, the plaintiff's claims, and the damages being sought. The complaint will ask for a jury if the plaintiff is seeking a jury trial.

2. Discovery

In this step, the attorney will seek information to strengthen their arguments in their client's case. As the name of this phase implies, discovery compels both sides of the suit to share information with each other, and prevents each from concealing information from one another. This is often the longest phase of the litigation process.

3. Motions

During this phase of the lawsuit, parties may proceed with filings that ask for certain actions from the court. Dispositive motions refer to motions in which the court's ruling could result in a termination of the lawsuit, while non-dispositive motions are those in which the court's ruling addresses a question.

4. Settlement Negotiation

This is the last step before trial, and it's a critically important one. Due to the cost and often intense stress of courtroom trials, they are best avoided whenever possible. A good litigation attorney knows this, and will work to achieve a settlement deal on behalf of their client before the suit goes to trial.

5. Trial

While a trial can be expensive and disruptive, the elements of a court trial are fairly straightforward. They are:

  • Selecting a jury

  • Opening statements

  • Witness testimony and cross-examination

  • Closing arguments

  • Jury instruction

  • Jury deliberation and verdict

Identify what type of litigation attorney is right for you.

There are two main types of litigators. The circumstances of your case will determine which is the appropriate type of attorney to handle your case. Civil litigation attorneys generally represent individuals in torts, such as personal injury, medical malpractice, and employment-related cases. Commercial litigators typically represent businesses involved in complex legal matters, such as intellectual property claims, antitrust lawsuits, class actions, and disputes over trade secrets. They may also litigate cybersecurity violations, fraud, shareholder disputes, and breach of contract/breach of fiduciary duty claims. It should be fairly simple to determine your situation, and base your initial attorney search on the right type of lawyer for it.

Begin researching litigators, and look for these qualifications.

Litigation is a diverse yet highly specialized area. For best results, you should select a trial lawyer with experience directly related to the dispute in question. Personal injury victims may want to seek out an attorney who offers aggressive representation. On the other hand, a small business may prefer a pragmatic professional who can provide the desired results while minimizing time and cost expenditures. In addition to these general qualities, and your personal rapport with the attorney, look for an attorney's certification from the National Board of Trial Advocacy. This nonprofit organization confers board certification to attorneys in the areas of civil trial law, civil practice advocacy, criminal trial law, family trial law, social security disability law and truck accident law. Attorneys with NBTA certification have demonstrated extensive experience and knowledge in their field of specialization. Some individual states, including California, Louisiana, Florida, Minnesota, New Jersey and Texas, also have their own state-sponsored certification programs for litigation attorneys specializing in specific areas, while other states, such as Alabama, Indiana and Ohio, accredit the certification programs of other private organizations.

Take advantage of an initial consultation to ask these important questions.

Hiring a litigator is an important decision that can determine the outcome of a case. In business settings, professionals who are responsible for hiring litigators look for candidates who are intelligent, creative, and have a strong work ethic. They may ask for general information about the lawyer’s experience and bar admissions to ensure that the lawyer is qualified to practice in the appropriate court or district. Other important questions to ask may include:

  1. Have you litigated cases like mine, and what were the outcomes?

  2. What is your current caseload?

  3. Are you familiar with the judge and/or with the other party's attorney in my case?

  4. What will be your strategy with my case?

  5. Will you handle my case personally?

  6. How long do you anticipate the process will take, and how often will you update me?

Understand the cost of hiring a litigation attorney, and how and when you will pay. 

Typically, litigators who represent plaintiffs work on contingency, which means they’re entitled to a portion of any settlement or court-awarded damages after the case is completed. On the defense side, litigators usually charge an hourly fee ranging from $250 on the low end to $500 or more for the most accomplished and experienced professionals, usually with a retainer required up front. Commercial litigation attorneys bill hourly or on a contingency basis, with hourly rates averaging $250 to $500 per hour, or a contingency percentage of about 33%. Clients are also responsible for paying expert witness fees and filing fees, among other associated costs.

Ready to speak to a lawyer? Here is our list of the best litigation attorneys near you.


The materials provided in this article are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. Use of and access to this article or any of the links contained in the article do not create an attorney-client relationship between the author and the user or browser. You should contact your attorney to obtain advice with respect to any particular issue or problem.

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