Choosing a career in law can be a profound and rewarding decision, and one of the most dynamic fields within this sector is that of a litigation lawyer. Litigation, often seen as the quintessence of legal practice, involves representing clients in legal disputes, both in and out of court. This article aims to provide an in-depth guide on becoming a litigation lawyer, detailing the skills, educational paths, types of litigation, and the various aspects that make this career both challenging and fulfilling.

Find out how to become a solicitor.

What is a Litigation Lawyer?

A litigation lawyer, also known as a litigator, is a legal professional who represents clients in disputes and helps them resolve their legal issues, whether through negotiation, mediation, or court trials. Litigation lawyers are either barristers or solicitors involved in every phase of the litigation process, from the investigation, pleadings, and discovery through the pre-trial, trial, settlement, and appeal processes. Whilst barristers represent the clients in court, solicitors are responsible for work that takes place out of court.

How to Become a Litigation Lawyer - Salaries Infographic

Criminal Litigation

Criminal litigation lawyers defend individuals in criminal proceedings. They obtain pre-interview disclosures, advise clients on police interviews, handle bail hearings, advise on pleas, represent clients during trial, sentencing an appeal. They review and challenge relevant evidence, cross-examine witnesses, and advocate for the outcome in favour of their client e.g. acquittal or reduced sentence. Learn how much it costs to become a solicitor

Civil Litigation

Civil litigation lawyers deal with disputes involving private individuals, corporate clients, government entities, and organisations. Depending on the nature of the dispute, the proceedings will take place either in the King’s Bench Division (KBD) of the High Court or the Chancery Division. KBD hears contract and tort cases and the Chancery division handles work relating to tax, validity of wills, bankruptcy, insolvency, intellectual property, and equity and trusts.

What is Litigation Law?

Litigation refers to the process of taking legal action to enforce or defend a legal right. It typically entails two parties involved in a dispute seeking to assert their rights or defend against legal claims. Litigation can cover a range of areas, including commercial, civil, and criminal litigation. Types of fields where civil disputes may arise include employment, personal injury, medicine, property, contract, and intellectual property. Litigation is costly and tends to be complex as usually, more complicated and grave cases reach litigation. The majority of disputes are settled out of court, and courts encourage alternative dispute resolution.

How To Become a Litigation Lawyer?

Becoming a litigation lawyer in the UK requires a specific educational and professional pathway. One of the pathways is:

  1. Academic Qualifications: Obtain a law degree (LLB) or a degree in another subject followed by a Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL).
  2. Legal Practice Course (LPC): Complete the LPC, which provides practical training and knowledge necessary for a legal career.
  3. Training Contract: Secure a training contract with a law firm. This is a two-year supervised practice, which is essential to qualify as a solicitor.
  4. Qualification and Specialization: After completing the training contract, you can qualify as a solicitor and choose to specialise in litigation.

An alternative pathway is via the SQE route:

  1. Academic Qualifications: Obtain a degree in any subject or equivalent level 6 qualification.
  2. Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE): Pass both stages of the SQE assessment (SQE1 and SQE2).
  3. Qualifying Work Experience (QWE): Complete 2 years of QWE.
  4. Qualification: Satisfy the SRA’s character and sustainability requirements. 

Skills Required to Become a Litigation Lawyer

Being a successful litigation lawyer requires a blend of various skills:

  • Analytical Skills: Ability to analyse large amounts of information and distil it into something manageable and logical.
  • Communication Skills: Proficiency in both written and oral communication is crucial.
  • Research Skills: Competence in legal research to find precedents and other relevant legal information.
  • Negotiation Skills: The ability to negotiate favourable settlements is key.
  • Attention to Detail: Precision in preparing legal documents and scrutinising facts.
  • Persistence: Litigation can be a lengthy process requiring perseverance and determination.
  • Organisational Skills: The ability to manoeuvre various deadlines set by the court or by procedural rules.

Litigation Lawyer Salary

Salaries for litigation lawyers vary based on experience, location, and the size of the law firm. In the UK, litigation solicitor salaries can range from £25,000 to £65,000, and experienced litigation lawyers can earn upwards of £100,000.

Litigation lawyer salary in different UK cities:

  • London: Salaries range from £50,000 to £150,000
  • Birmingham: Salaries range from £45,000 to £60,000
  • Bristol: Salaries range from £42,00 to £62,000
  • Manchester: Salaries range from £42,000 to £70,000
  • Leeds: Salaries range from £45,000 to £70,000
  • Southampton: Salaries range from £45,000 to £65,000
  • Newcastle: Salaries range from £40,000 to £75,000

What Do Litigation Lawyers Do?

Litigation lawyers handle a variety of tasks, including:

  • Case Investigation: Gathering facts and evidence to assess the merits of a case.
  • Pleadings: Drafting and filing of summons and complaint to initiate a lawsuit, and responding to such actions.
  • Discovery: Exchanging information and documents relevant to the case with the opposing party.
  • Pre-trial Preparations: Preparing for trial including witness preparation and developing a strategy.
  • Trial: Representing clients in court, presenting evidence, and making arguments while balancing duties and risks.
  • Settlement: Negotiating settlements to avoid trial or to end a trial that is already underway.
  • Appeal: If necessary, pursuing an appeal that involves submitting further evidence and legal arguments to a higher court.

How to Get Litigation Work Experience?

Becoming a successful litigator requires dedication and time. It may be difficult to secure practical experience in the legal field and focusing on obtaining transferable skills is a good alternative to obtain the required skills. Gaining experience in litigation involves:

  • Internships and Mini-Pupillages: Working in law firms or with barristers to gain firsthand experience.
  • Pro Bono Work: Volunteering for legal aid societies or other organisations.
  • Clerkships: Working as a clerk in a court can provide valuable insights into the judicial process.
  • Networking: Attending legal seminars, and workshops, and networking with professionals in the field.
  • University Workshops/Competitions: Many law schools offer workshops and competitions in negotiation, mooting, and debate. This is a good way to develop strong communication and/or negotiation skills. These skills are important as clients may be encouraged to enter negotiations as an alternative to litigation and as a way to preserve business relationships. 
  • Observation: Attend public legal events and observe court hearings.
  • Transferable Skills: Gain experience in jobs that require strong organisational skills, attention to detail, meeting tight deadlines, and the ability to work under pressure. Such skills are vital for a good litigator.

Find out how to get more law work experience and stay up-to-date with vacation scheme deadlines.

Types of Litigation Lawyers

Litigation can arise in any area of law and litigators need to engage with other legal departments in their work. Litigation lawyers can specialise in different areas, such as:

  • Commercial Litigation: Handling disputes between businesses.
  • Civil Litigation: Dealing with private disputes between individuals or organisations.
  • Criminal Litigation: Representing clients in criminal cases.
  • Employment Litigation: Specialising in disputes between employers and employees.
  • Environmental Litigation: Focusing on cases involving environmental laws and regulations.
  • Personal Injury Litigation: Most commonly involved in negligence cases and ensuring appropriate compensation for their client.

Frequently Asked Questions

Below you will find answers to the most commonly asked questions:

What are the typical work hours and work-life balance for a litigation lawyer?

The work hours and work-life balance for a litigation lawyer can be quite demanding, especially when preparing for trials or meeting tight deadlines. Litigation lawyers often work long hours, including evenings and sometimes weekends. However, this can vary depending on the firm’s size, the complexity of the cases handled, and the lawyer’s seniority. Some firms are known for their high-pressure environments, while others may offer more flexibility. Aspiring lawyers need to research and consider the culture of different law firms when looking for positions.

How does the career progression look for a litigation lawyer, and what opportunities for advancement are available?

Career progression for litigation lawyers typically starts with them working as associates in law firms, gaining experience, and building a reputation in the field. With time and proven expertise, they can advance to more senior positions, such as senior associate or partner. Some may choose to specialise in particular areas of litigation, which can open opportunities for becoming recognized experts. Additionally, experienced litigation lawyers might move into roles in academia, corporate in-house legal teams, or even transition to positions in the public sector, such as working for government agencies or becoming judges.

What are the specific challenges or downsides of being a litigation lawyer that one should be aware of before entering the field?

The challenges or downsides of being a litigation lawyer include the high-stress nature of the job, given the adversarial and competitive environment of court cases. Lawyers in this field need to consistently perform under pressure and manage the expectations of their clients, which can be emotionally taxing. Furthermore, the job requires constant learning and adaptation to new laws and legal practices, which can be challenging but also intellectually stimulating. Finally, the initial years in litigation can be particularly strenuous, with lower salaries compared to more experienced practitioners and a steep learning curve.