Civil litigation is considered to be a hot legal practice. The media portrays litigation as fast-paced and exciting, but in reality, it's not quite the way it's depicted on television and in the movies.
Litigation often drags on for years, and the work can be mundane, tedious, and stressful—all at the same time. Forewarned is forearmed, so it can help to know what you're getting into before you get in. This type of work brings plenty of advantages, but there are some cons as well.
Litigation Can Be Repetitious
All litigation cases follow the same basic path, so the work can become monotonous.
Many litigation tasks, such as client advocacy and trial testimony, are challenging, but responsibilities such as research and preparing demand letters, medical chronologies, case timelines, non-party requests, and deposition summaries can be time-consuming and tedious.
Litigation Can Be Fast-Paced
Balance this against the fact that litigation is latent with deadlines that must be performed on a daily basis. You must be able to thrive in a fast-paced, sometimes chaotic environment.
Filing deadlines and approaching trials will force you to assess, prioritize, and juggle multiple priorities. The list of fires to put out can seem endless. You must be organized, methodical, a fast learner, and work well under pressure to excel in a fast-paced litigation environment.
You Won't Like Every Client
Not every client will be an ideal one. Society presents myriad individuals who require legal representation, and some clients are more fun and interesting to interact with than others.
You'll inevitably handle cases and attend trials on behalf of clients who are demanding, difficult, or unresponsive. This doesn't make them less deserving of your efforts.
The Litigation Timeline Is Long
Litigation isn't an express route to a resolution. It typically takes one to three years for a case to reach trial.
Clients can grow impatient, bored, or frustrated during this time. They'll need to be assured and reassured then reassured again that their cases are progressing as they should, and that all deadlines and issues are being handled appropriately all along the litigation pipeline.
Litigation Entails Conflict
Some people aren’t well suited to working in an area that often involves conflict between two or more parties, but there are two sides to every litigation so it's inherently adversarial. The opposing counsel or client can be difficult to work with in some cases.
The Plaintiff’s Side: Sometimes You Lose
Attorneys often work on a contingency fee basis in certain areas of litigation, such as personal injury, product liability, family law, and medical malpractice. The law firm only makes money if it settles a case or wins a verdict at trial.
One of the inherent disadvantages of working in litigation on the plaintiffs’ side is that you'll inevitably lose some cases. It's possible to litigate a case for years with no compensation at the end of the long haul.
The Defense Side: Billable Quotas
Those working from the defense perspective must track all their billable time and meet daily, monthly, and yearly billable quotas imposed by their firms. Compensation is typically dependent on your billable hours.
It can be stressful to account for every minute of your work day and to bill the required number of hours, and it can be challenging if you're out of the office for any length of time due to an illness, FMLA leave, or personal time. Sometimes you'll just lack sufficient work to meet your quota.
Deadlines and approaching trials require that lawyers, paralegals, and legal staff work long hours that can far exceed 40 in a given week. This can go on for weeks on end and include evenings and weekends.
You might be required to reschedule personal obligations or pre-planned vacations to accommodate the firm’s trial calendar. Long hours can be burdensome. They can create conflicts with personal activities and impede a positive work-life balance.
You Must Develop a Thick Skin
The fast-paced litigation field is a breeding ground for stress. Attorneys, paralegals, and legal staff can become agitated, frustrated, and snappy, and that stress can have a trickle-down effect within the firm.
You must develop a thick skin and not take stressful interactions with others personally unless there's a good reason to do so. Stress and the human reactions it produces come standard with the territory.
The Bottom Line
Some individuals prefer commercial or transactional work over litigation because it's less conflict-ridden. You might also consider the areas of real estate, tax, business, securities, intellectual property, or trade secret law if you think that litigation might not be the ideal career path for you.
All these fields entail less conflict, but they still provide many of the same benefits, the opportunity for professional growth, and the career perks associated with litigation work.
Jamie Collins is the founder and owner of The Paralegal Society™, and writes for a paralegal-pointed column.
With an extensive legal background spanning more than fourteen years, Jamie Collins has gleaned an eye for detail and an extensive knowledge of legal processes and systems and how they can be streamlined for efficiency to positively impact a firm’s operation.