Klarissa Jeiel: Where Law Meets Design

What is the Difference Between a Lawyer and a Litigator?

Discover the key differences between lawyers and litigators in this insightful article, clarifying roles, duties, and legal practice areas. Read more here.


Most of you have probably heard the word “lawyer” and “litigator” interchangeably. And while many of you know what a lawyer is, you might be wondering “what is a litigator?” and “what is the difference between a lawyer and a litigator, if any”? The short answer is that a litigator is a specific type of lawyer. So yes, that means there are different types of lawyers. If you didn’t know this, don’t worry. You’re not alone. If you’re not in the legal profession or you’re new to it, it’s not exactly common knowledge. I personally didn’t know what a litigator was until I got into law school. Before then, I thought all lawyers were the same.

Interested in learning about the different types of lawyers? Also check out: Litigator vs. Barrister vs. Solicitor

This article will focus on the difference between a lawyer and a litigator so if you want to know more about that, keep reading.

What is a Lawyer?

Let’s start with the basics: what is a lawyer? A lawyer is a professional who is authorized to practice law. This means that they have gone to law school and completed all the necessary requirements to be able to practice law like pass the bar exam or complete articling. These requirements vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

Related: How to Become a Lawyer in Alberta

What does a lawyer do?

A lawyer provides legal advice to clients and represents clients in legal matters (whether in court e.g. a hearing or out of court e.g. for the sale of a home). Fundamentally, this is what it means to “practice law.” Of course, from a day-to-day perspective, a lawyer takes on many responsibilities and completes various tasks. Some of these include:

  • Meeting with clients (to receive instructions, provide legal advice, sign documents, etc.)
  • Reviewing and drafting legal documents such as demand letters, opinion letters, legal memorandums, and various contracts
  • Research (case law, legislation)
  • Questioning
  • Working with opposing counsel or self-represented litigants in a lawsuit
  • Making court appearances
  • Negotiation
  • Etc.

To add to that, there are many areas of law that a lawyer can practice and even specialize in. To name a few:

  • Family law
  • Real Estate law
  • Corporations law
  • Intellectual Property law
  • Tax law
  • Criminal law
  • Wills and Estates law
  • Immigration law

Categories of Law: Litigation and Transactional Law

As you can see from the many different practice areas and the range of responsibilities/tasks that a lawyer takes on, the field of law is vast. But it can roughly be divided into two categories: litigation and transactional law. Litigation is court focused (think: lawsuits, criminal charges) while transactional law is outside of the court system (think: people buying and selling a house, corporations buying and selling assets, drafting a will, etc.).

Each practice area lends itself better to one of these two categories. For example, family law is more so litigation than transactional law because it involves ex-spouses seeking guidance and/or orders from the court regarding family issues such as spousal support, child support, property division, and parenting. In contrast, a practice area like real estate law is more of a transactional law practice where the parties voluntarily make dealings with each other and require legal advice and documents to be drafted without the involvement of the courts.

What is a Litigator?

A litigator, as the name suggests, is a type of lawyer that specializes in litigation. In the criminal context, this type of lawyer would be involved in prosecuting and defending against crime. In the civil context, they would be involved in initiating or defending against lawsuits, going to trial, and everything in between.

What does a litigator do?

A litigator “litigates” matters i.e. they make court appearances on behalf of a client and make submissions or argue a case in front of a judge. Of course, a litigator also plays a role outside of court. For example, in preparation for a court hearing, a litigator will conduct discovery and questioning, make court applications, prepare witnesses to take the stand and make other preparations for trial, meet with clients, negotiate with opposing counsel, draft documents, make settlement offers, and much more.

Some lawyers know from the get-go that they want to be a litigator. They want to be in the courtroom. They are skilled in oral advocacy. They like to think on their feet. So they gravitate towards certain practice areas that are more litigation centered like family law, immigration law, and civil litigation. Other lawyers experience the opposite. They may not feel passionate about litigation but end up practicing in a specific area that heavily involves litigation for whatever reason (because the subject matter interests them, because it was a practice area that their firm needed more lawyers to practice in, etc.) and ultimately become a litigator.


A lawyer is someone authorized to practice law. However, since law is an extensive field, there are different types of lawyers. A litigator is a type of lawyer who specializes in litigation or lawsuits. I hope this article helps you understand the difference between a lawyer and a litigator, but if you’re still confused, think about it this way: all litigators are lawyers but not all lawyers are litigators.