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Top 10 Differences Between Civil Lawyers and Criminal Lawyers

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If you are involved in litigation or if you are accused of a crime, you may need to hire a civil lawyer or a criminal lawyer. It is important you understand what each type of attorney does and that you know the difference between civil and criminal attorneys. Read on for the top 10 differences between civil lawyers and criminal lawyers.

  1. Civil lawyers represent clients in lawsuits, while criminal lawyers work within the criminal justice system: Different evidence rules and standards apply for criminal lawyers and lawyers generally do not practice both civil and criminal law.
  2. A victim has to hire a civil lawyer, while the state can press charges in criminal court even without the victim's cooperation: If a prosecutor believes a crime was committed, he can press charges against the criminal without the consent or cooperation of the victim. A negligence lawsuit, however, will not be brought unless the person injured by the negligence (the plaintiff) decides to sue.
  3. Defendants in civil lawsuits are not entitled to a lawyer provided by the court: This means that if you are sued, you have to hire and pay for your own lawyer. The court is not obligated to provide one in a private lawsuit.
  4. Those accused of a crime are entitled to a public defender or lawyer; those sued aren't: Under the Sixth Amendment, the court must provide accused criminals with an attorney if they can't afford to hire their own.
  5. Civil lawyers represent clients where only money is at stake: In a civil lawsuit, the only remedy is monetary damages. In other words, no one will be sent to jail as a result of losing a civil suit.
  6. Criminal lawyers must deal with a different burden of proof: In criminal courts, the prosecutor must prove his case beyond a reasonable doubt. In civil courts, the plaintiff's attorney only must prove that the defendant's negligence more likely than not caused damages.
  7. Civil lawyers can charge on a contingency fee basis while criminal lawyers can't: It is not legal for criminal lawyers to agree to charge money only if they win their cases. This type of fee structure is common in civil suits though.
  8. Civil lawyers can represent either plaintiffs or defendants while criminal lawyers represent only defendants: A criminal defense attorney works only for an accused defendant; the person who prosecutes the case must be employed by the government and is generally referred to either as a prosecutor or as a district attorney.
  9. Civil lawyers and criminal lawyers must meet different standards to win cases: Civil lawyers generally need to prove negligence and that the negligence proximately caused the damages. In a criminal case, the burden is on the prosecutors to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt; criminal lawyers must raise enough doubt that a judge or jury could not find the defendant guilty. 
  10. Civil and criminal lawyers have a different process of preparing for cases: In a civil suit, both sides are entitled to discovery. That means the plaintiff and defendant are both required to turn over the information about the case to each other. For discovery in a criminal case, however, the defense can limit what the prosecution sees to protect the defendant from self-incrimination. 

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