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What do Civil Rights Lawyers do?

By G. Wiesen
Updated May 17, 2024
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Civil rights lawyers typically specialize in laws that protect individual human rights, and they work with companies and individuals that may be involved with situations in which these rights may have been violated. These lawyers are known for working with plaintiffs who feel that their rights have been infringed upon, though some lawyers may also choose to represent defendants in order to ensure a proper defense. Regardless of which side they are on in a case, a lawyer prepares a case, examines evidence, argues the merits of a case in a court of law, and works toward the overall benefit of his or her clients.

The area of law known as civil rights deals with basic human rights that all people are guaranteed under the laws of a land. Civil rights lawyers usually become involved in a case in which these rights have been ignored or denied to someone due to some aspect of who that person is. These cases typically involve issues such as ethnicity, race, gender, sexual orientation or identity, age, disability, and any other feature that may make one person different from someone else.

Civil rights lawyers can be hired to either work with a plaintiff, the person bringing a civil rights case to court, or the defendant, who the action is being taken against. Once a lawyer takes a case, he or she will begin by building a case for one side or the other. This involves an analysis of evidence and the testimony of various witnesses and experts. Depending on what side of a case the lawyer works on, this can be done to either strengthen or weaken the claim of a plaintiff.

Many lawyers work with a staff of assistants and law students to help perform research and interview witnesses. They will then argue the merits and weaknesses of a case before a judge or jury, depending on the nature of the case. A civil rights case is typically a civil case in which service or employment was denied to a person due to that person’s ethnicity, gender, age, or similar factor, and the plaintiff brings a civil suit against the defendant to redress the perceived discrimination. Civil rights cases can potentially be criminal cases as well, however, such as “hate crimes” in which some characteristic of a person was the cause for an act of violence against him or her.

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Discussion Comments

By Melonlity — On Feb 10, 2014

The battle over civil rights over the past few years has, of course, been on whether to make sexual orientation a full fledged "protected class" along with race, sex, etc. Of course, civil rights lawyers can be counted on to line up on the side of making sexual orientation a protected class -- those attorneys stand to make more money on cases which allege discrimination based on sexual orientation and, as such, are all for expanding what classes are protected against discriminatory acts and policies.

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