What Is a Litigator?

Definition & Examples of a Litigator

Litigators vs. Trial Lawyers Presentation of Duties

The Balance 2019

Litigators are attorneys who specialize in litigation, or taking legal action against people and organizations. They often manage the process from start to finish.

Learn more about what a litigator does.

What Is a Litigator?

These types of lawyers are involved in every stage of the litigation process, which includes investigation, discovery, pleadings, pre-trial work, settlement, trial representation, and, if necessary, appeal.

A litigant is the client a lawyer represents, and a litigator has an ethical and legal obligation to advocate for them to the best of their ability.

How a Litigator Works

The litigation process is long and complex, and exactly how involved a litigator is in each step of the process depends on where they work. Sole proprietors or litigators in small firms may be highly involved in each step of litigation. Those at larger firms may be involved at varying levels throughout the process depending on seniority.


Litigation usually begins with a full investigation to gather all of the details that may ultimately affect the outcome of a case. The investigation aspect of a case often requires enlisting the help of other professionals, such as accountants or private investigators, and it may involve identifying and interviewing witnesses who possess important knowledge or information. The idea is to provide supporting evidence for the client's case.


A litigator must then file a pleading with the court that explains their client's side of the legal issue at hand. Both parties must file pleadings in a lawsuit. If the litigator's client is the one initiating the legal action, then they must file a complaint that's delivered to the defendant. If the litigator's client is the defendant, then they must file an answer to the complaint.


An investigation continues in the form of discovery—an exchange of pertinent information between the parties of the case—after a legal action is initiated. During this time, litigators may perform depositions, where they interview the opposing counsel and obtain witnesses. They may also file motions asking the court to make decisions on matters relating to the case before the trial begins.


A litigator then typically handles all necessary conferences, hearings, and meetings with the opposition's legal team before the trial begins.


During the pre-trial period, the attorneys involved may negotiate a settlement in lieu of going to trial. The litigator would participate in this negotiation.


If the litigators don't reach a settlement agreement during the pre-trial phase, then the case goes to trial. The litigator represents the client during a trial by helping to choose a jury, making opening and closing statements and arguments, questioning witnesses, and introducing evidence.


If the litigator's client is unhappy with the outcome of the trial, then they may file an appeal. They must present the court with evidence of the reason for appeal, such as a legal error that occurred during the trial.

Litigators vs. Trial Lawyers


Trial Lawyers
Involved in the entire litigation process from start to finish

Mainly involved in the trial portion of litigation and not the rest of the process

Usually spend more time working outside of the courtroom on a case than inside Usually spend a good portion of a case inside the courtroom
Can also be trial lawyers Can also be litigators

Both litigators and trial lawyers may represent clients in court. A litigator may be a trial lawyer, and a trial lawyer may be a litigator. An attorney doesn't necessarily have to be both, but many are.​

Litigators are usually involved with cases from start to finish, through all phases of the litigation process, as described above. They often oversee the entire process.

Trial lawyers excel in the courtroom. They may spend the majority of their time representing clients in courts but don't necessarily deal with all of the other aspects of the litigation process.

In some larger firms, the trial lawyer role may be largely reserved for court appearances while someone else, typically a first-year associate or paralegal, handles the less exciting duties of case preparation. Attorneys who go into private practice and work as sole practitioners are by necessity both litigators and trial attorneys.

Key Takeaways

  • Litigators are attorneys who specialize in litigation, or taking legal action against people and organizations.
  • They're involved in all phases of the litigation process from beginning to end.
  • Their level of involvement in each phase depends on where they work.
  • Litigators may be trial lawyers, but their scope of work is usually greater than that of a typical trial lawyer.