A litigant is one of the disputing parties in a lawsuit — either the plaintiff or the defendant. While important to the process of litigation, the attorneys and judges involved are not called litigants. Lawsuits are conflicts that have been brought into the judiciary system by the litigants themselves as opposed to by the police or other authorities.
A claimant, or plaintiff, is the party that first takes legal action against the other. The claimant accuses the respondent, or defendant, of some damage or other injustice. Legally, the defendant must respond to the accusation, which is why the defendant is also known as the respondent. The defendant is also able to file counterclaims against the original claimant as part of this response. It is possible to have any number of claimants and defendants involved in a lawsuit and litigants can be either individuals or organizations.
The majority of lawsuits never end up reaching a formal trial. Many are instead settled beforehand. A litigant should be aware that, even when settled without a trial, the litigation process can be complex and require a careful investment of both time and money.
A litigant can hire a lawyer as his or her representative, or, in many jurisdictions, he or she has the option of self-representation. Those who choose to represent themselves are referred to as pro se litigants. Most of the people who opt to act as pro se litigants do so in order to save money or out of a desire to speak for themselves and in their own sincere words. This role requires a great deal of research and preparation; it can be less costly in terms of time, and more effective overall, to let a professional trained in the law to speak on one's behalf.
The words pro se are Latin and mean "for oneself." Many legal words originally come from Latin because this was once the language that dominated the majority of Europe's political and legal discourses and systems. The word litigant itself also derives from a Latin word, litigare, which means "to dispute."
A related, and often misused, adjective is litigious. Describing someone as litigious is not a way to say that person is currently involved in litigation. The adjective can either describe things that are related to the litigation process or a person who is prone to taking legal action as opposed to settling conflicts outside of the judicial system — in other words, a person who frequently elects to assume the role of litigant.