The United States is home to over 1.3 million active lawyers.
A chief reason behind that high rate is that being a lawyer is often a lucrative career. Indeed, these legal professionals are among the highest-paid in the United States. Their salary ranges from $94,600 to $271,000, averaging about $168,000 annually.
Those who take cases to trial often make even more.
Cases tried in courts take time, and many lawyers charge by the hour. Thus, the longer their trials take, the more hours they can bill clients.
So, do all lawyers go to court, then? Why won’t they if it means they can rake in more billable hours to charge clients? And if they don’t, what legal roles do they play instead?
We’ve answered all those questions in this guide, so read on.
Do All Lawyers Go to Court?
No, not all lawyers go to court.
One of the primary reasons is that not all legal matters require court intervention. The judiciary, or the system of courts, only handles cases requiring justice administration.
There are four primary categories of “justice,” namely:
- Distributive (establishing who gets what)
- Procedural (determining the fair treatment of people)
- Retributive (punishing wrong-doing)
- Restorative (resolving disputes in and restoring relationships)
Legal matters that don’t fall under any of those four may not need to go to court. For lawyers who handle such, going to court is beyond the scope of their work.
However, even cases that fall into those four categories rarely make it to the judiciary. Experts say only 2% of criminal cases and 1% of civil cases filed in federal courts go to trial. They also note that rates are even lower in state courts.
That low rate is primarily due to court proceedings being costly and time-consuming. For example, personal injury lawsuits could take one to three years to receive a verdict. This helps explain why only 1 in every 20 personal injury lawsuits go to court for resolution.
What Types of Lawyers Go to Court?
Lawyers who go to court typically specialize in criminal and civil law. Examples of criminal law practitioners are prosecuting and criminal defense attorneys. In civil law, personal injury and family attorneys are among those who most often go to court.
Criminal Law Practitioners
Prosecuting attorneys represent plaintiffs, while criminal defense lawyers represent defendants.
In criminal cases, the plaintiffs are the states acting on behalf of the victims. Their prosecuting attorney’s role is to try and convict the defendant.
The defendants are the people or parties accused of a crime. Their criminal defense lawyer’s role is to convince juries they’re not guilty.
Both types of lawyers can go to court with cases that involve the following crimes:
- Against a person (e.g., assault, murder, rape, domestic abuse)
- Against property (e.g., robbery, burglary, larceny, theft)
- Against society (e.g., pornography, DUI, weapon law violations)
- Financial (e.g., bribery, corruption, fraud)
Criminal law practitioners may also take legal matters involving inchoate crimes to court. These are cases wherein the defendant may not have completed a crime but attempted to commit one. Conspiring to commit or being an accessory to a crime can also classify as an inchoate crime.
Civil Law Practitioners
Civil law practitioners can also take cases between plaintiffs and defendants to court. However, their legal practice involves non-criminal disputes between two or more parties.
An example of civil law is personal injury law. In these situations, a plaintiff claims a defendant harmed them. The plaintiff may allege the defendant injured them in a car accident or medical error.
Family law, involved in family issues, also falls under civil law. Divorce lawyers and child custody lawyers can sometimes take cases to court.
Which Lawyers Don’t Go to Court?
Some lawyers who don’t go to court may only practice specific areas of business law.
For example, a corporate formation attorney specializes in helping clients start their businesses. They advise clients on which corporate structure best suits their would-be business’s needs. Other roles they may play include conducting legal research and negotiating contracts.
Another example is a mergers and acquisition (M&A) lawyer. These legal professionals specialize in helping clients merge or acquire businesses. They also assist in negotiations and drafting contracts for potential transactions.
Real estate lawyers specializing in asset acquisition may also not need to go to court. Their chief role is to advise clients on the best properties to acquire. For example, they may recommend rental properties for their clients to invest in.
Can Lawyers Choose Not to Go to Court?
Yes, even those who handle civil cases like personal injury claims can choose not to go to court. In many cases, they opt not to since, as mentioned above, trials are costly and time-consuming. They may also not take a case to court if they believe it has a low chance of a positive outcome.
In those situations, lawyers advise their clients on resolving disputes out of court.
For example, a plaintiff wants to file a claim against a driver who injured them in a car crash. The victim suffered minor acute injuries and property damage costing $25,000. There’s also little risk of the plaintiff’s injuries causing long-term damage.
In the above scenario, a car accident injury attorney may advise the plaintiff to settle. This involves negotiating an amount the defendant’s insurer would pay the plaintiff. If the insurance companies pay, the case no longer needs to go to court.
Another example is if a married couple wants to divorce but doesn’t agree with who gets what. Their respective lawyers may advise them to consider mediation first. If both spouses still can’t resolve their disputes, a judge may already need to step in.
Not All Legal Matters Require Trial
If you’ve always wondered, “Do all lawyers go to court,” we hope this guide has clarified that they don’t. After all, not all cases require court intervention, such as if settlement is an option. For many others, taking legal matters to trial is out of their scope of work.
Ready to read more law-related guides like this? Then check out our detailed post on finding affordable legal assistance!
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