An attorney may handle criminal or civil cases. A civil lawyer represents clients in cases that involve harm to property, negligence, or domestic issues. He might also handle cases in which an individual has been wrongly terminated from a job or had his civil rights violated. This individual normally works in a private law firm, rather than for a corporation or government agency.
In most jurisdictions, a civil lawyer must be licensed to practice law. The requirements for obtaining a license vary from one country to the next, but generally include graduating from law school and passing a licensing exam. A general license may be issued, which means the attorney would not necessarily be prohibited from handling criminal cases.
Even though this lawyer may not be prohibited from handling criminal cases, he does not usually work as a public defender. Public defenders are appointed to defendants who are charged with a crime and cannot afford to hire a lawyer. If a civil lawyer does take on a criminal case, the defendant typically bears the cost of the attorney without help from taxpayer funds.
A civil lawyer often specializes in a particular area of the law. Some attorneys exclusively handle family-related matters such as divorce or adoption. Others may limit their practice to cases of personal injury, medical malpractice, or wrongful death. Some lawyers help people with wills and estate planning, while others represent those who have issues with employment.
Many cases handled by a civil lawyer do not end up in court. This is because the matter being dealt with is not disputed by a third party. Some examples of this include uncontested divorces and estate planning. In these instances, the attorney prepares the necessary documents and files them with the court system after all parties have signed the paperwork.
Even though many civil cases do not go to trial, they may nonetheless be settled by an alternative method such as arbitration or mediation. Arbitration is similar to a court hearing, but the matter is decided by a neutral third party who acts as a judge. In mediation, the parties work together to resolve a matter as fairly as possible. A civil lawyer may represent his client during these proceedings, making opening statements, presenting evidence, and questioning witnesses. He might also advise his client on the advantages and disadvantages of making certain concessions to the other side during the mediation process.