A litigator is an attorney who specializes in representing clients who are either a named plaintiff or defendant in a civil lawsuit. A civil litigation attorney must be thoroughly familiar with the rules of procedure for the courts or administrative bodies in which he practices. The formal rules of civil procedure dictate the manner in which cases are brought in the various courts, and how they proceed through the phases of the litigation process — from the initial stages through trial.
After a complaint has been filed in court and a response served on the plaintiff, a litigator will frequently spend a significant portion of his time on pre-trial matters. These include preparing or defending against various pre-trial motions that can have an important effect on the outcome of the litigation. A motion is a request to the court for specific procedural relief. Various motions that may be filed include asking the court to dismiss the action because the complaint filed by the plaintiff was too vague or fails to state a legally recognized cause of action. Also, in appropriate circumstances, a civil litigation attorney may seek to dismiss a case without need for a trial because all the evidence indicates that there is no genuine issue of material fact, and that his client is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.
Some lawyers maintain a general litigation practice, where they accept clients who seek representation in court for a wide range of cases that may include breach of contract actions, medical malpractice, and personal injury. Other attorneys confine their practice to certain specified areas of the law. A litigator may also practice law in a number of different venues. Some civil litigation attorneys will work in legal services clinics, representing indigent clients in court, while others may elect to work in large law firms on behalf of corporate clients, handling class action lawsuits or representing businesses before regulatory agencies during administrative hearings.
Some civil litigation attorneys may limit their involvement in a case to the trial phase exclusively. It is not uncommon for some lawyers in a law firm to handle initial matters on a pending case, including discovery and filing, and responding to various pre-trial motions that may arise during the course of the proceedings. Another, more seasoned litigator with extensive experience arguing cases in front of a jury may then handle the actual trial of the matter.