It takes tact, patience and a deep understanding of both the law and various court procedures to resolve disputes between different parties. This is the province of civil litigation, and of the lawyers who specialise in it (they are also known as litigators). Civil litigation law attempts to resolve lawsuits that fall outside of the criminal system. These lawsuits may deal with a range of issues, including personal injury claims, deceased estate disputes, bankruptcy and debt recovery.
Civil litigation occurs primarily within courts and tribunals, with the jurisdiction of each court and tribunal defined by its founding legislation and any subsequent amendments. For example, the NSW District Court Act (1973) specifies that the district court’s jurisdiction depends upon the size of the claims brought before it. The Civil Procedure Act (2005) elaborates, stipulating that the limit on such claims is $750,000, with cases that involve larger sums of money referred to the Supreme Court by default.
Civil litigation may also take place in specialised courts and tribunals that focus on certain aspects of the law. For example, in NSW, these courts include the Land and Environment Court, the Children’s Court, the Coroner’s Court, and the Drug Court. Some examples of influential tribunals include the Dust Diseases Tribunal of New South Wales and the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.
As a graduate solicitor practicing civil litigation (also known as a ‘litigator’), your responsibilities will likely include assessing the merits of various cases, advising on the cost of litigation, initiating and responding to claims, participating in interlocutory and default hearings, and enforcing orders and settlement agreements.
Graduates’ work is varied and they are an integral part of the team. At the early stages of a dispute graduates are involved in identifying the scope of the documentary evidence – often at the client’s premises – and then piecing this evidence together to determine the relevant facts. They may also perform time-consuming subpoena reviews, or assist with witness preparation.
One advantage of practicing civil law is that it offers the satisfaction of advocating for your clients (this can be true even when you’re not successful in the litigation). You’ll learn how to be strategic, as well as how to negotiate and mediate disputes. In the process, you’ll enjoy diversity both in the details of each case, and the skills you will require to prosecute them.
Civil litigation is a major branch of the law and one which offers a variety of opportunities for career development. Whether you’re employed by a large firm or a small one, or even work directly for a commission or tribunal, there are many ways in which you can move up (for example, into a senior litigation role) or sideways (for example, into a different sub-speciality of civil litigation).