WHAT IS TORT LAW?
Tort law primarily focuses on 1) personal injury and 2) insurance defense litigation. Personal injury lawyers generally provide access to the civil court system for those without financial means by handling cases on a contingency fee basis, which means that the attorney is only paid a percentage (usually one-third) of any recovery. Yes these are the same lawyers who bring the numerous cases against the tobacco and firearms industries and the manufacturers of potentially dangers products such as vehicles with side-mounted fuel tanks, asbestos, breast implants, and diet pills, and who seek recoveries in mass disasters such as an airline crash or a structural building collapse. The litigation of these high-profile cases - as well as the more typical cases involving injuries suffered in automobile accidents, incidents of medical malpractice, and other cases of negligence - coposes the practice known as personal injury and insurance defense.
Most plaintiffs' personal injury attorneys work in small firms or on their own. Insurance defense attorneys may be part of small, mid-size, or large firms that specialize in insurance defense work, or the may work in-house for corporations or insurance companies. Sometimes they work in the insurance defense litigation departments of large general practice firms. Corporations and insurance companies also employ attorneys who supervise tort litigation handled by outside attorneys.
Tort litigation attorneys are engaged in the wide variety of activities handled by all litigation attorneys - drafting pleadings, writing and arguing motions, gathering facts through discovery, and representing their clients in pre-trial hearings, settlement negotiations, trials, and appeals. Many people enter the field of tort litigation directly out of law school. The wide variety of tort cases - some involving less serious injuries and a demand for lesser damages - allows attorneys who have recently graduated to gain the litigation experience mentioned above.
IF YOU'RE CONSIDERING PURSUING A CAREER IN TORT LAW...
1. Participate in trial advocacy classes, writing classes, and moot court competitions.
2. Gain practical experience by working as a law clerk. See the Chicago Area 4 or More List for firms that practice insurance defense or tort litigation.
3. Keep up with the latest developments in the field of tort law in verdict reporters and local daily law periodicals.
4. Become part of the community of tort litigators through involvement in professional associations.
5. Join the Chicago Bar Association, Young Lawyers Insurance Defense and/or Tort Law Practice Sections.
6. Think about taking some of the following classes:
- Advanced Torts
- Complex Issues in Personal Injury Litigation Seminar
- Insurance Law
- Perspectives in Tort Law
- Problems in Tort Law
- Products Liability
- Trial of a Medical Malpractice Case