About Civil Litigation & Dispute Resolution
Trial lawyers or civil litigators are lawyers who represent clients in civil lawsuits. Trial lawyers spend much of their time on pre-trial issues such as discovering facts, deposing witnesses, and preparing cases to be tried. They also spend a significant amount of time negotiating, drafting pleadings, writing briefs, and filing motions. Although most cases are resolved before trial, litigators must have the confidence and skill to argue motions and try a case to a jury or judge. Litigators also frequently handle appeals after a case is tried.
Lawyers who do litigation must have strong legal research and writing skills, since a large part of the practice involves writing. They need to be well organized and detail-oriented, and have the ability to see the big picture. Trial lawyers also need to be skilled negotiators and have good people skills, since they spend a great deal of time settling cases and talking with clients, witnesses, and opposing counsel.
Civil litigation spans a broad spectrum of substantive law. Some litigators are generalists who work in diverse areas of law. Others specialize in particular practice areas, such as employment, business, product liability, or malpractice. Litigators may work in small boutique firms, small or medium general practice firms or in litigation departments of large firms. Corporations, insurance companies and financial institutions also hire litigators to work in their in-house litigation departments.
In the past few years there has been increasing interest in alternative dispute resolution, particularly mediation — an informal alternative in which an individual brings opposing parties together to work out an agreement — and arbitration — a simplified version of a trial involving no discovery and simplified rules of evidence. Although this area of practice is increasing in popularity, it is most often experienced lawyers and retired judges who practice in this area.
Note: Whether a particular course is scheduled depends on faculty availability and student demand. View the Course Descriptions for more information about each course and when it's offered.
These are the basic courses that faculty and prospective employers recommend for students interested in this specialty.
The following courses address recurring foundational issues which enhance a litigator's knowledge of choices routinely encountered in shaping litigation.
Substantive Law Courses
Students interested in a specialty within this area of practice should take substantive law courses in their area of interest. Examples would be:
Clinics, Internships, & Externships
Consumer Law Litigation Clinic
The Consumer Law Litigation Clinic represents low- and moderate-income consumers in individual and class action lawsuits in federal and state courts. The Clinic operates year-round and is open to students who have completed their first year of law school. The Consumer Law Litigation Clinic trains students in all aspects of civil litigation.
Wisconsin Department of Justice Clinical Externship Program
Students work in various civil units of the Wisconsin Department of Justice. The program offers law students a unique opportunity to gain hands-on experience in public advocacy and litigation. Externs practice trial, appellate and administrative law with some of the state's most well-respected litigators, working on matters of statewide importance.
Judicial Internship Program
The Judicial Internship Program places students with trial and appellate judges throughout Wisconsin, including placements with the Wisconsin Supreme Court and the federal district courts for the Eastern and Western Districts of Wisconsin. Student work varies but usually emphasizes research and writing.
Neighborhood Law Clinic
The educational mission of the Neighborhood Law Project is to train students in legal research and analysis, drafting, negotiation, litigation, and other skills, while also engaging them in a critical inquiry into the role of law and lawyers in redressing economic injustice and inequality. Students work under close supervision, and gain experience in client interviewing, counseling, and client-centered lawyering.
Restorative Justice Project
The Restorative Justice Project gives students the opportunity to practice mediation skills and assess the effectiveness of an alternative dispute resolution process by providing mediation between the victims of crime and the criminal offenders. The project is open to students who have completed their first year of Law School.
Second and third-year law students can receive academic credit, through the Law Externship course, for working on litigation matters at organizations such as the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Western District of Wisconsin, or almost any nonprofit organization or government agency.
Student Organizations & Related Activities
Students who are interested in civil litigation should seek out opportunities in law school to develop their writing and oral advocacy skills.
For a full list of student organizations at UW Law, view the Student Organizations, Journals, & Activities.
Here are some of the full-time faculty who teach or have an interest in this subject area:
- Marsha Mansfield, Professor; Director, Family Court Assistance Project
- Mitch, Clinical Professor; Director, EJI; Director, Neighborhood Law Clinic
- Sarah Orr, Clinical Professor; Consumer Law Project
- David Schwartz, Professor
In addition to our full-time faculty, the Law School's adjunct faculty members — prominent practicing lawyers and judges — bring their specialized knowledge and experience to the classroom. Filter by "Adjunct" in the Law School Directory for a full list.