Civil cases can include a variety of complaints, from landlord and tenant disputes to employment and labour issues. It can also involve environmental law, medical malpractice, and intellectual property. In the past year, Canada had a total of over 325 000 civil cases, making up a significant portion of the judicial action. While the process can differ in small ways across provinces, there is a simplified procedure one can follow to learn the judicial ins and outs, as well as the reasoning behind the courts’ processes and decision-making. Here is a brief guide to the process of civil law, and how legal assistants can prepare for work involving civil litigation.
Understanding the Process of a Civil Trial
Simply put, a civil case involves any litigation that is not addressed in criminal court, and means that one private party is taking legal action against another. Once a civil claim has been admitted into trial, it follows a standard procedure similar to a criminal court.
As students in legal assistant training may know, in the opening phase both parties representing the plaintiff and defendant will present their opening statements. These should address the facts and matters related to the case. Following the opening statements, the plaintiff will present evidence and, by nature of having the burden of proof, must use this evidence to demonstrate that the defendant has committed wrongdoing. Witnesses will then be examined or cross-examined by both parties, and, following the defence’s presentation of their evidence and further rebuttals, final motions may be reached. Final motions may include a request for a directed verdict, which means the jury will not deliberate, although approval by the presiding judge is uncommon. Closing arguments are then prepared for the jury, which both parties use to summarize and reiterate important points, and finally, the jury is sent to deliberate a verdict.
Why Civil Trials Are Important
Civil cases mainly differ from criminal ones because the victim is the plaintiff, whereas in criminal court it is the government that prosecutes the defendant. Since the plaintiff in civil trials is seeking personal damage reparations, each party is responsible for paying their own expenses. The other significant difference from a criminal court is that civil law seeks compensation from the defendant, rather than discouraging criminal behaviour. Civil litigation is important because it sets legal precedence for addressing civil damages outside of criminal court, and upholds a sense of social responsibility in the public.
Preparing for a Civil Trial
One of the main duties vital to graduates of legal assistant school is providing administrative support to lawyers and paralegals, which includes, but isn’t limited to, formatting briefs and other legal documents, organizing and managing attorney billings, electronic and physical document filing, and client correspondence. It is important for a legal assistant to maintain current knowledge of legal records and proceedings, as well as possibly attending these proceedings in person in order to better understand the complex processes of legal and clerical work.
It is important to note that legal assistants should not be consulted on legal matters or offer professional legal advice. Much of the work a legal office assistant can expect involves word processing and document management, and it is important to have a working knowledge of legal procedures in order to properly organize and manage clients’ files, documents, and case records. The careful work of diligent legal assistants helps lawyers carry out a successful trial.
Do you want to complete training for a rewarding career?