What is a Trial Lawyer?

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  • Written By: Carol Francois
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 23 March 2014
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A trial lawyer is a person who is education in the law, has passed the bar exam and argues their client's case in front of a judge or a jury. There are three types of trials in most countries that operate under civil law: criminal, civil and constitutional. A trial is a legal proceeding, where disputes are heard by an impartial person or group of citizen and a binding decision is obtained.

In a criminal trial, there are two trial lawyers. The person charged with the crime by the police has a trial lawyer called the defense attorney. That lawyer is responsible for arguing on behalf of the person charged.

The other trial lawyer is called the prosecution or crown lawyer. This type of lawyer argues on behalf of the law making body of the country. The purpose of a criminal trial is to act as an independent public review of the information provided by the police against the person charged with a crime.

Both trial lawyers use the law and the facts of the case to argue the case. The final decision is made by the judge or a group of independent citizens called a jury. The method for selecting a jury varies widely in different countries.


A civil trial is where two parties can go to settle their differences without having broken any laws. Civil trial lawyers can take cases covering a wide area of civil law -- everything from divorce to business disputes. Each party has their own trial lawyer and both argue to the judge that their perspective is correct.

In a constitutional court, trial lawyers argue with the government about the laws they have passed, changes to the constitution, or Supreme Court rulings. The trial lawyers in these types of cases must have greater resources at their disposal than regular trial lawyers, as they must do a great deal of research into the spirit of the law and the meaning behind it when arguing their cases. These cases also tend to have a much longer timeline to complete.

To become a trial lawyer, you must complete a degree in the law and pass the bar or barrister exam. Upon successful completion, you are certified as a lawyer. Every lawyer can decide if they want to specialize in a specific area, or have a general law practice.

A trial lawyer can work either for the government or for the general public. Working for the government provides a stable job, set salary and benefits and provides access to a wide range of cases. Most legal work is done outside of the trial setting, with the writing of opinions, research, filing of motions and meetings.

Working for the general public as a trial lawyer provides an opportunity to specialize in a particular type of case or to serve a broader community. Trial lawyers are paid based on their hourly rate and are responsible for securing their own clients. They often work in law firms, to share the costs of administration, law clerks and research services.


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