Legal Insurance

What Is a Civil Lawyer and What Do They Do?

4 min read
Feb 27, 2023

A civil lawyer — also called a civil litigation lawyer or a litigator — handles non-criminal cases and legal disputes. If you’ve ever gone through a divorce or opened a business, for example, you may have done so with the help of a litigator.1

Let’s dive a little deeper into what a civil lawyer is and what exactly they do.

What is a civil lawyer?

“Civil lawyer” is a blanket term for attorneys who practice non-criminal law. Litigators can practice in several areas, but they most often specialize in one — like personal injury, real estate, or estate planning.1

What’s the difference between a civil vs criminal case?

Criminal lawyers focus on prosecuting or defending individuals who’ve committed crimes against the public, state, or country. Civil lawyers work with cases in which there’s a dispute between people or organizations, but no criminal laws have been broken.1

Types of civil lawyers

There are many types of lawyers that fall into the civil law category. These can include:

What does a civil lawyer do?

Civil litigation lawyers represent their clients in civil law cases. They can work with individuals, businesses, and government organizations. A civil lawyer may help their client through the beginning processes of filing a lawsuit, as well as the litigation, potential court proceedings, and resolution.

They can also help determine whether a case needs to go before a judge or if it can be resolved outside of the courtroom through mediation, arbitration, and/or negotiation. Additionally, litigators can help make sense of the legal jargon and procedures that can come with filing a lawsuit against someone.

What is the civil litigation process like?

The civil litigation process can feel intimidating. But understanding how the process works, and what to expect from your lawyer, can make a big difference.

Here’s what the civil litigation process may look like:3

File a petition

First, when a client hires a civil lawyer, they’ll file a petition to the court. This is a statement explaining why they're suing the other party. Once that’s filed, the petition and summons will be brought to the defendant — the person or entity they’re filing a case against. This lets them know what’s being brought against them and provides a time frame in which they must respond.


Once the defendant answers the summons, their lawyer will move into the discovery phase. This is when they’ll collect information and evidence about the claim and build a case against the defendant.

Next steps

After all of the relevant information is collected, their litigator will determine the best way forward — whether that’s attempting to settle or bringing the case to court. From there, they’ll work with the defendant and their attorney to reach an agreement that works for everyone. Or they’ll argue the case before a judge and jury, who will then determine the outcome.2

How much does a civil lawyer cost? 

There are a number of factors that go into costs, including the specific field your lawyer is in, their experience level, location, and the amount of work your case requires. Also, many attorneys require a retainer in addition to their hourly rate, which is meant to cover any extra expenses throughout the legal process.

On average, the hourly rate for a lawyer in the U.S. is upward of $3914. This is a good place to start when benchmarking the price of filing a civil lawsuit. However, this number is highly variable. Consider speaking directly to a few lawyers in your area to get an accurate understanding of how much your case could cost.

Need to hire a civil lawyer? Consider legal insurance

If you think you may need to file a civil lawsuit, consulting a civil lawyer is a good first step. They can help you understand what the process will be like and guide you toward the right course of action moving forward. 

If you have a legal insurance plan you may have access to lawyers who can provide legal advice and help you along your journey.

Want to learn more about MetLife Legal Plans?

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1 “What is a Civil Attorney? - Job Description & Duties” Valiente Mott

2 “What Are The Different Types Of Litigation?” The Moore Law Group, 2022

3 “What does a Civil Attorney Do?” Persaud Law Office, 2020

4 Average hourly rate of $391.00 based on years of legal experience, National Law Journal and ALM Legal Intelligence, Survey of Law Firm Economics (2021).

This article is intended to provide general information about insurance. It does not describe any Metropolitan Life Insurance company product or feature.