Civil Litigation vs. Criminal Litigation

A forum for applicants and admitted students to ask law students and graduates about law school and the practice of law.
User avatar
Kafkaesquire
Posts: 180
Joined: Wed Apr 17, 2013 12:55 pm

Civil Litigation vs. Criminal Litigation

Postby Kafkaesquire » Fri Jun 28, 2013 2:51 am

Many of these threads are opinion-based, anyway.

I have an engineering degree, but I still haven't decided if civil litigation is the route for me. Why I think criminal litigation would be way more exciting may be an error in judgement on my part, so I wanted to open up a thread to juxtapose the two openly.

Oh, yeah. I guess I could do transactional work. Then again, I would want to make a living. (I'm just kidding.)

User avatar
Scotusnerd
Posts: 813
Joined: Sat Oct 01, 2011 7:36 pm

Re: Civil Litigation vs. Criminal Litigation

Postby Scotusnerd » Fri Jun 28, 2013 7:38 am

Kafkaesquire wrote:Many of these threads are opinion-based, anyway.

I have an engineering degree, but I still haven't decided if civil litigation is the route for me. Why I think criminal litigation would be way more exciting may be an error in judgement on my part, so I wanted to open up a thread to juxtapose the two openly.

Oh, yeah. I guess I could do transactional work. Then again, I would want to make a living. (I'm just kidding.)


You have zero way of knowing which appeals to you right now. You probably won't have a clue until your 1L summer. Don't stress too much about it.

Also, what exactly is your question?

User avatar
Kafkaesquire
Posts: 180
Joined: Wed Apr 17, 2013 12:55 pm

Re: Civil Litigation vs. Criminal Litigation

Postby Kafkaesquire » Fri Jun 28, 2013 9:18 am

Which would you choose, and why?

User avatar
Bronte
Posts: 2128
Joined: Sun Jan 04, 2009 10:44 pm

Re: Civil Litigation vs. Criminal Litigation

Postby Bronte » Fri Jun 28, 2013 9:34 am

I'm having trouble explaining why this question doesn't really make sense. You don't decide you want to do litigation and then say, "huh, now should I do civil or criminal"? Criminal law is essentially a specialty practice area and is very insular. For the most part, you have to be all in.

Also, "civil litigation" is so broad a term on this context as to be almost meaningless. You could be talking about working at a big law firm doing securities litigation, working at a nonprofit suing the government for making bad environmental regulations, or working as a solo practitioner suing restaurants for slip and falls.

User avatar
A. Nony Mouse
Posts: 22808
Joined: Tue Sep 25, 2012 11:51 am

Re: Civil Litigation vs. Criminal Litigation

Postby A. Nony Mouse » Fri Jun 28, 2013 9:41 am

The OP doesn't really make sense for a lot of reasons (in particular, a lot of the major biglaw work is transactional, in the sense of doing deals and so on, which makes plenty of money, so I don't understand the "I want to make a living" bit). But for me there is a meaningful distinction between civil and criminal lit, and I did make that decision: first I figured out I wanted to do lit, then did a variety of different externships/etc., and realized I found criminal litigation much more interesting than civil litigation. For me, it was largely because I find all the constitutional underpinnings of crim pro really fascinating, and the rules of civil procedure make me want to shoot myself, so it did come down to broad differences between the two. I mean, you're totally correct that civil lit encompasses a ton of different kinds of law/practices, and I'm sure I could have found something I liked, but there was still a useful distinction for me (though not a distinction that was really clear until I got out of law school and started clerking).

User avatar
Scotusnerd
Posts: 813
Joined: Sat Oct 01, 2011 7:36 pm

Re: Civil Litigation vs. Criminal Litigation

Postby Scotusnerd » Fri Jun 28, 2013 6:30 pm

You're right, it's way too broad. Civil litigation is everything from securities fraud to tax disputes to probate litigation to mass toxic torts.

I really have no idea what OP is asking. Which would I choose? The one with decent people and a decent paycheck.

User avatar
stillwater
Posts: 3811
Joined: Tue Jun 28, 2011 2:59 pm

Re: Civil Litigation vs. Criminal Litigation

Postby stillwater » Sat Jun 29, 2013 11:34 am

see which procedural rulez you like best: civ pro or crim pro. then ride that highway to glory.

jml8756
Posts: 139
Joined: Fri Mar 12, 2010 6:58 pm

Re: Civil Litigation vs. Criminal Litigation

Postby jml8756 » Sat Jun 29, 2013 11:53 am

One difference is that civil litigation tends to be a lot more contentious than criminal litigation. In civil litigation, the opposing attorneys can get downright nasty with each other knowing that they'll probably never encounter each other again. But the criminal bar is usually smaller, the defense attorneys and prosecutors have to work with each other on different cases, and a lot of defense attorneys are former prosecutors, so that leads to a more amicable relationship between the two sides.

User avatar
Scotusnerd
Posts: 813
Joined: Sat Oct 01, 2011 7:36 pm

Re: Civil Litigation vs. Criminal Litigation

Postby Scotusnerd » Sat Jun 29, 2013 1:14 pm

jml8756 wrote:One difference is that civil litigation tends to be a lot more contentious than criminal litigation. In civil litigation, the opposing attorneys can get downright nasty with each other knowing that they'll probably never encounter each other again. But the criminal bar is usually smaller, the defense attorneys and prosecutors have to work with each other on different cases, and a lot of defense attorneys are former prosecutors, so that leads to a more amicable relationship between the two sides.


Just FYI, there are definitely exceptions to this.

jml8756
Posts: 139
Joined: Fri Mar 12, 2010 6:58 pm

Re: Civil Litigation vs. Criminal Litigation

Postby jml8756 » Sat Jun 29, 2013 1:38 pm

Scotusnerd wrote:
jml8756 wrote:One difference is that civil litigation tends to be a lot more contentious than criminal litigation. In civil litigation, the opposing attorneys can get downright nasty with each other knowing that they'll probably never encounter each other again. But the criminal bar is usually smaller, the defense attorneys and prosecutors have to work with each other on different cases, and a lot of defense attorneys are former prosecutors, so that leads to a more amicable relationship between the two sides.


Just FYI, there are definitely exceptions to this.


Hence my use of the words "tends" and "usually" rather than "always" or "without exception"...

User avatar
kalvano
Posts: 11720
Joined: Mon Sep 07, 2009 2:24 am

Re: Civil Litigation vs. Criminal Litigation

Postby kalvano » Sat Jun 29, 2013 1:50 pm

For some reason, "criminal litigation" really bothers me. It's either criminal prosecution or criminal defense, but it really doesn't have much to do with civil litigation.

utlaw2007
Posts: 783
Joined: Wed Dec 22, 2010 9:49 pm

Re: Civil Litigation vs. Criminal Litigation

Postby utlaw2007 » Sat Jun 29, 2013 2:46 pm

You don't have to choose if you want to eventually work for yourself. You can do both. I know quite a few attorneys who do both. I have done both simultaneously.

I think OP was referring to that he wants to eat in reference to my comment about transactional work with small business on a thread I started.

Transactional work can be done, but it must be supplemented if you want to work for yourself.

If you are deciding on what you should do at the very beginning of starting a law firm yourself, you should be open to as many practice areas as possible. You can better decide which ones are better for you as you do what I talk about in my thread as it pertains to assessing demand for a particular legal service in your area.

If you are asking which one is easier to pay bills at first, than I'd say criminal easily because of the properties of the fee structures involved.

If you are asking which one is just flat out more interesting, I would say civil litigation by a mile when you are talking about the types of crminal cases a lawyer without a rep would likely handle. I say that because you will likely not get to the point of trying a high profile or high level felony crime as a criminal defense lawyer starting out. Even if you did snag a case like that early on, you run a huge risk of getting in trouble with the bar for insufficient representation based on your so few years experience. Basically, they will be on you as to why you took such a case with so little experience. So to be safe, you a going to be relegated to low level crimes, misdemeanors and low level felonies. Those are pretty boring and not as much about your facts as they are about the already existing record your client may have and your relationship with the prosecutor.

Civil cases can be pretty boring, too. But that just really depends on the kinds of cases you want to cut your teeth on. All of my civil cases, or at least, a large majority of them, have been very interesting to not just me, but to every single person I tell those stories, too.

if you are exceptionally curious as to which one you want to practice, my suggestion would be to practice both as a solo or work for someone who owns a law firm that does both. The only problem with that is that there is far too much variance in the types of cases you could have in civil. There is variance in criminL, but not as much as civil.

utlaw2007
Posts: 783
Joined: Wed Dec 22, 2010 9:49 pm

Re: Civil Litigation vs. Criminal Litigation

Postby utlaw2007 » Sat Jun 29, 2013 2:49 pm

kalvano wrote:For some reason, "criminal litigation" really bothers me. It's either criminal prosecution or criminal defense, but it really doesn't have much to do with civil litigation.


I agree with this. Criminal defense legal work is not really litigation. It can be referred to that, technically. But criminal work really isn't litigation to me either. there is going to be an exchange of evidence between the two parties. But that exchange is guided by criminal procedure rules.
Last edited by utlaw2007 on Sat Jun 29, 2013 9:22 pm, edited 2 times in total.

utlaw2007
Posts: 783
Joined: Wed Dec 22, 2010 9:49 pm

Re: Civil Litigation vs. Criminal Litigation

Postby utlaw2007 » Sat Jun 29, 2013 2:53 pm

jml8756 wrote:One difference is that civil litigation tends to be a lot more contentious than criminal litigation. In civil litigation, the opposing attorneys can get downright nasty with each other knowing that they'll probably never encounter each other again. But the criminal bar is usually smaller, the defense attorneys and prosecutors have to work with each other on different cases, and a lot of defense attorneys are former prosecutors, so that leads to a more amicable relationship between the two sides.



This is true to some extent, but a focus on certain practice areas will greatly lessen the chances of this happening.

This type of hostility is supposed to be typical in family law. And it is can happen with frequency with cases that involve really small business or individuals fighting over fairly trivial matters. It's not something significant enough to factor in a decision on which to practice unless one is considering doing family law.

utlaw2007
Posts: 783
Joined: Wed Dec 22, 2010 9:49 pm

Re: Civil Litigation vs. Criminal Litigation

Postby utlaw2007 » Sat Jun 29, 2013 2:56 pm

And solos, depending on practice areas, do a lot more than slip and falls and accidents. I know you were just providing an illustration to the larger point you were making which is civil encompasses a lot. I just wanted to add more detail as to the choices of solos so as to dispel what appears to a huge myth about what solos do on this forum.

There are such things as small businesses who get into contract disputes. And there are always employment issues that require plaintiff's counsel.

But there are host of commercial issues that don't involve comapanies large enough to be able to retain a big law firm.
Last edited by utlaw2007 on Sat Jun 29, 2013 3:04 pm, edited 1 time in total.

utlaw2007
Posts: 783
Joined: Wed Dec 22, 2010 9:49 pm

Re: Civil Litigation vs. Criminal Litigation

Postby utlaw2007 » Sat Jun 29, 2013 2:58 pm

And in Texas, there are plenty of solos who handle Oil & Gas disputes. But yes, civil is a very large term that really should be broken down according to practice area and demographic to have any meaningful distinction.

User avatar
A. Nony Mouse
Posts: 22808
Joined: Tue Sep 25, 2012 11:51 am

Re: Civil Litigation vs. Criminal Litigation

Postby A. Nony Mouse » Sat Jun 29, 2013 6:14 pm

utlaw2007 wrote:
kalvano wrote:For some reason, "criminal litigation" really bothers me. It's either criminal prosecution or criminal defense, but it really doesn't have much to do with civil litigation.


I agree with this. Criminal defense legal work is not really litigation. It can be referred to that, technically. But criminal work really isn't litigation to me either. there is going to be an exchange of evidence between the two parties. But that exchange is guided by criminal procedure rules.

Yeah, criminal litigation sounds weird, I admit. I think it makes sense to the extent you're dividing the world between litigation and transactional, in which case criminal is on the litigation side. But as its own thing, it sounds weird.

UnderrateOverachieve
Posts: 412
Joined: Sun Mar 25, 2012 4:34 pm

Re: Civil Litigation vs. Criminal Litigation

Postby UnderrateOverachieve » Sat Jun 29, 2013 6:43 pm

A. Nony Mouse wrote:
utlaw2007 wrote:
kalvano wrote:For some reason, "criminal litigation" really bothers me. It's either criminal prosecution or criminal defense, but it really doesn't have much to do with civil litigation.


I agree with this. Criminal defense legal work is not really litigation. It can be referred to that, technically. But criminal work really isn't litigation to me either. there is going to be an exchange of evidence between the two parties. But that exchange is guided by criminal procedure rules.

Yeah, criminal litigation sounds weird, I admit. I think it makes sense to the extent you're dividing the world between litigation and transactional, in which case criminal is on the litigation side. But as its own thing, it sounds weird.


It has a very odd ring to me as well, but it seems correct. How many jobs in criminal law, as an attorney, do not involve litigation?

User avatar
A. Nony Mouse
Posts: 22808
Joined: Tue Sep 25, 2012 11:51 am

Re: Civil Litigation vs. Criminal Litigation

Postby A. Nony Mouse » Sat Jun 29, 2013 6:49 pm

UnderrateOverachieve wrote:
A. Nony Mouse wrote:
utlaw2007 wrote:
kalvano wrote:For some reason, "criminal litigation" really bothers me. It's either criminal prosecution or criminal defense, but it really doesn't have much to do with civil litigation.


I agree with this. Criminal defense legal work is not really litigation. It can be referred to that, technically. But criminal work really isn't litigation to me either. there is going to be an exchange of evidence between the two parties. But that exchange is guided by criminal procedure rules.

Yeah, criminal litigation sounds weird, I admit. I think it makes sense to the extent you're dividing the world between litigation and transactional, in which case criminal is on the litigation side. But as its own thing, it sounds weird.


It has a very odd ring to me as well, but it seems correct. How many jobs in criminal law, as an attorney, do not involve litigation?

In that respect, it's correct, but I think kalvano's right that everyone always talks about doing criminal prosecution/defense. However, I don't think because something's governed by crim pro rather than by civ pro, it's not litigation. It's just not civil litigation. So I don't know if utlaw has a different definition of litigation than I do (for me, litigation = stuff that happens in court, before a judge).

User avatar
kalvano
Posts: 11720
Joined: Mon Sep 07, 2009 2:24 am

Re: Civil Litigation vs. Criminal Litigation

Postby kalvano » Sat Jun 29, 2013 8:32 pm

I think for me it's just that trial work in a criminal case is pretty different than trial work in a civil case, and it just sounds weird to lump the two into the same general category. Everything is so much more strict when it comes to criminal work, and a lot of what applies in civil litigation isn't relevant at all in criminal work.

Just completely separate worlds. I think that's why it sounds so off to me.

UnderrateOverachieve wrote:It has a very odd ring to me as well, but it seems correct. How many jobs in criminal law, as an attorney, do not involve litigation?


Nothing that I can think of. The entire focus of criminal law is on the trial, either prepping for it or avoiding it (plea deals).

User avatar
bjsesq
TLS Poet Laureate
Posts: 13383
Joined: Fri Nov 19, 2010 3:02 am

Re: Civil Litigation vs. Criminal Litigation

Postby bjsesq » Sat Jun 29, 2013 8:37 pm

You know, with his username, I think I see what OP did here.

utlaw2007
Posts: 783
Joined: Wed Dec 22, 2010 9:49 pm

Re: Civil Litigation vs. Criminal Litigation

Postby utlaw2007 » Sat Jun 29, 2013 9:15 pm

Technically, both are litigation. But I guess I see a difference since that so many lawyers can say they are civil litigators, but they are not trial lawyers. I think most criminal defense lawyers are actually trial lawyers.

I understand most criminal cases are pled out just as most civil cases are settled. But I would suspect more criminal lawyers have been to trial than lawyers who call themselves civil litigators. They both have pretrial preparation which is both are considered litigation.

utlaw2007
Posts: 783
Joined: Wed Dec 22, 2010 9:49 pm

Re: Civil Litigation vs. Criminal Litigation

Postby utlaw2007 » Sat Jun 29, 2013 9:33 pm

@A Nony Mouse.

You are right in your definition of litigation. And you are right in that I do have a bit different definition of litigation just based on my personal experiences. Doesn't make my definition right. It just makes calling criminal defense work litigation seem funny to me. I have just grown to view litigation as a drawn out pretrial process requiring a lot of discovery.

I highlighted the difference in crim pro and civ pro to point out that there is much more stuff going on with civ pro. That's why litigation has a different meaning for me.

User avatar
Scotusnerd
Posts: 813
Joined: Sat Oct 01, 2011 7:36 pm

Re: Civil Litigation vs. Criminal Litigation

Postby Scotusnerd » Sat Jun 29, 2013 10:23 pm

There is criminal litigation. There are collateral proceedings (post-conviction relief, habeas corpus, etc.) and direct appeals. Neither are prosecution or defense. Collateral proceedings actually function like civil trials, to make the distinction even more confusing. PCR can have discovery, summary judgment motions etc. just like a normal civil trial. Direct appeals are...well, appeals. I don't know if the AG offices act as prosecutors in that position or not.

User avatar
stillwater
Posts: 3811
Joined: Tue Jun 28, 2011 2:59 pm

Re: Civil Litigation vs. Criminal Litigation

Postby stillwater » Sat Jun 29, 2013 10:30 pm

Scotusnerd wrote:There is criminal litigation. There are collateral proceedings (post-conviction relief, habeas corpus, etc.) and direct appeals. Neither are prosecution or defense. Collateral proceedings actually function like civil trials, to make the distinction even more confusing. PCR can have discovery, summary judgment motions etc. just like a normal civil trial. Direct appeals are...well, appeals. I don't know if the AG offices act as prosecutors in that position or not.


you must be a scotus clerk




Return to “Ask a Law Student / Graduate”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 2 guests