What Does a General Litigator Do?

These versatile legal professionals are highly skilled in civil procedure

By Tim Kelly, J.D. | Last updated on May 12, 2022

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General litigators are lawyers who represent clients throughout every stage of the litigation process, from the initial investigation through settlement negotiation or, should the case proceed to trial, the appeal process. In simplest terms, litigation is the process in which legal disputes are carried out.

People who have suffered harm and wish to recoup their losses often file civil lawsuits against the parties that allegedly committed the harm. This is where a general civil litigation lawyer can help.

Note that this area is separate from criminal law. If you are facing criminal charges, you should seek counsel from criminal lawyers, not litigators.

The Services of a General Litigator Throughout Litigation

Civil litigators are exposed to a variety of practice areas and legal issues. Lawsuits can be filed for any number of reasons, including personal injury, protection of intellectual property, and medical malpractice. General litigation attorneys must have knowledge of the law in their client’s case. But it’s equally crucial that the attorney be skilled in the many stages of  

  1. Investigatory phase. Litigators for the plaintiff typically conduct a preliminary fact-finding investigation to determine if enough evidence exists to support a lawsuit. This involves gathering witness statements, relevant documents, and any other pertinent evidence. After the lawsuit is filed, the attorney for the defendant typically begins gathering evidence to mount a capable defense.
  2. Pleading. A civil lawsuit begins when the plaintiff (or, more accurately, the plaintiff’s attorney) files a summons and complaint. Once that happens, the opposing parties begin filing pleadings and motions with the court. These filings generally mean that a party is asking the court to act or is requesting something from the opposing party.
  3. Discovery. As a civil suit progresses, parties must exchange information to strategize and prepare for trial. One means by which parties can interact during this stage is by submitting what are called “interrogatories” to one another. These are written questions that opposing parties must answer under the penalty of perjury. The discovery phase is also where attorneys seek the help of expert witnesses or professionals with specialized knowledge that could help decide the case in their favor. Depositions are typically conducted at this time as well.
  4. Pre-trial. As you might expect, the pre-trial phase is when parties make their final preparation for the trial. Here, the opposing sides strategize with their clients, file motions on finalizing evidence, and prepare any witnesses for testimony.
  5. Settlement negotiation. Legal matters are often resolved before reaching the time-consuming and costly rigors of a civil trial. A settlement is where the parties agree to end the suit pending certain conditions, often in the form of monetary compensation. Parties can begin negotiating a settlement at any time, even during the investigatory phase. Parties are sometimes encouraged to attempt alternative forms of dispute resolution and reach a settlement through mediation or arbitration.
  6. Trial. If a settlement cannot be reached, the case proceeds to trial, where the parties present their arguments before a judge and, usually, a jury. Parties can opt for a “bench trial,” where a judge decides the dispute instead of a jury.
  7. Appeal. Suppose that a legal matter is decided in a trial. The losing party sometimes can appeal the case. Generally, a party can appeal a case if evidence indicates that the decision rendered during the trial was erroneous. Attorneys for the appealing party will reexamine the evidence and determine which issues to push on appeal.


Before they can handle civil cases and practice at a law firm, litigators must receive quite a bit of schooling. This means earning a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university before enrolling in law school and obtaining a law degree, known as a juris doctorate. Law students embarking on a legal career are trained in performing legal research and educated in various practice areas. Upon earning their doctorate, they are only allowed to practice law once they pass a competency exam and are admitted to a state bar.

Free Consultations

If you anticipate suing or being sued in the future, it’s always a good idea to sit down with an attorney to discuss options and next steps. Many law firms and attorneys offer free initial consultations where the attorney can hear the facts of the case and the client can ask questions and determine whether to enlist the attorney’s services.

Questions for a General Litigation Attorney

The best way to decide whether an attorney is the right fit is by asking informed questions. Here are some good questions to ask during your initial conversations:

  • Why did you choose a legal career in advocacy?
  • How much do you charge, and which types of billing structures do you offer?
  • Do you have experience with legal issues similar to my own?
  • What is the likelihood of a settlement given the facts of my case?
  • Are you a trial lawyer, or do you have any trial experience?

Finding the Right Attorney For Your Needs

It is essential to approach the right type of attorney—someone who can help you through your entire case. To do so, you can visit the Super Lawyers directory and use the search box to find a lawyer based on your legal issue or location. 

To help you get started, you may want to consider looking for a lawyer who specializes in general litigation.

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