Skip to Main Content

Home Explore Careers

Civil Litigation Lawyers

History

People have sought justice from courts and other authoritative bodies since the dawn of civilization. The ancient Greeks and Romans set up the first schools of law for young boys to learn the many skills involved in pleading a case. In 590 B.C., the Greek lawmaker Solon created the Helieaea, or people’s court, in Athens. Ancient Athenians brought their complaints to the Helieaea, where juries of citizens would listen to cases. There were no judges, only juries. Athenian courts heard both civil and criminal matters, as well as appeals from citizens who were dissatisfied with rulings by the council or assembly.

Every culture has established some system of laws, such as the Code of Hammurabi (established about 1760 B.C.), the Ten Commandments (1400 B.C.), the Twelve Roman Tables (mid-400s B.C.), English common law (12th century), and the Napoleonic Code (1804). English common law and the Napoleonic Code are especially noteworthy. English common law came about after King Henry II created a national legal system that was common to the entire country. He appointed judges to a central court and then sent them throughout the country to hear cases. A judge would resolve a case based on his interpretation of local customs and practices. He would then return to London and file his decision. These royal judges often discussed cases with one another and started to use previous decisions as the basis for deciding their cases. Older decisions, or precedents, took on the force of law. Eventually, a judge was bound to use another judge’s earlier interpretation of the law if the facts before him were the same or very similar. The result was that after a few centuries, all of England really did have a body of laws that was “common” to all regions. The Napoleonic Code created a uniform set of laws to ensure that rulings were made consistently. Under the code, laws could be applied only if they had been passed by the French legislature and officially published. The code established rules for citizenship, property ownership, and family matters. In France and other European countries that developed civil law codes, specialized workers emerged to perform various legal tasks. Some men worked as advocates who were licensed to argue cases in court. Others did legal research and interpreted laws, wrote documents such as wills and contracts, or handled other legal tasks. 

U.S. law is a conglomeration of common law, civil law, and other legal systems brought over by the colonists—but common law prevails in most states, except for Louisiana (in which both civil and common law are used). In the United States, the number of lawsuits filed has increased each decade as more people seek justice for a variety of grievances. In 2005, for example, 7.4 million civil lawsuits were filed, according to the National Center for State Courts. Today, this number has more than doubled to about 16 million annually. One major trend in civil litigation is the increasing popularity of class-action lawsuits, in which a large number of plaintiffs sue a corporation or other organization. Massive financial settlements from successful class-action lawsuits have prompted an increase in the number of these lawsuits filed each year.  

In 1946, a group of plaintiffs’ attorneys involved in workers’ compensation litigation founded the Association of Trial Lawyers of America. Today, it is known as the American Association for Justice, and it is the leading organization for civil litigation attorneys.