Coogan Knows The Law

Episode 11: Lawyer’s Job in a Civil Case

Jim discusses the Lawyer’s Job in a Civil case. What should you be explaining? What questions should you ask? What sorts of things should your lawyer be explaining to you throughout the process? And where is it all going? Have a listen and feel free to contact Jim directly with any questions…

Welcome to Coogan knows the law, where we untangle the knots of complicated legal questions and breakdown legalese into plain English. I’m attorney Jim Coogan.

Today’s question is what is a lawyer’s job in a civil case?

First, we’re going to talk about how important it is to learn the facts. Second, we’ll discuss what it means to dig deeper. Third, we’re going to talk about how important it is for your attorney to guide you through the process. Lastly, of course, is your lawyer’s obligation to bring it all home.

But before we discuss those important ways to look at the lawyers job in representing you in a civil case, I want to remind you how important it is to speak to attorneys that you know that you trust and then you have an opportunity to ask the questions that you want to.

And in that vein, this episode is brought to you by the law firm of Coogan, Gallagher, where we take very seriously our obligation to spend that extra time with our clients. Answer those extra questions and make sure that you really understand what’s happening in the course of representation.


What is a lawyer’s job in a civil case?

And the short answer is this is the secret sauce. This is the thing that you probably would wonder throughout the course of one 2-3 years of your lawyer taking your case, calling you once in a while, letting you know that they need some documents, giving you some documents to fill out. You may consistently be wondering what is my attorney actually doing and what are they supposed to be doing.

So the first important step in representing a client in the civil case is your attorney needs to learn the facts. When we first get a call, we don’t know anything. Maybe we know your name, you tell us it’s a car crash, or you tell us that you just got an unfortunate diagnosis or you’re telling us about some horrible thing that happened to a loved one when they were at a nursing home.

At that point in time all we know are questions we don’t have any answers just yet. We don’t have the details just yet. And so it’s the basics. The Who, the What, the When, the Where eventually, probably some of the Why, but that’s the stage at which your attorney needs to be asking you all those questions first. And then they can turn and find out more information just based on what you told them.

See, here’s the thing about attorneys. They are professional researchers, the kinds of people that go to law school in the 1st place were capable of and enjoyed looking into what was the source document here. If someone citing this case study or citing this other example in a paper, in a research article in and they wanna go that extra mile and find out: What does that thing actually say? Does it say what the author claims that it says?

That’s something that comes up all the time in legal representation: looking behind a citation and determining whether it’s an accurate quote or whether it’s taken out of context entirely and doesn’t actually support whatever it is that somebody wants to say that it means we’re in an age right now where this is consistently a question, things are being proposed to mean things that it never intended to mean.

At the outset of your attorneys representation of you, they’re going to be taking the information you give them and then they’ll start to look in other places that they know how to look because again, they’re professional researchers. They may look to government documents. They may look to resource documents. There’s all kinds of different ways to start that research process also very importantly.

If we’re talking about a personal injury case, they need to look at the medical records, your medical records or in the unfortunate case of a death: what does a death certificate say? They need to get the records and see why the death certificate says what it says and you start to dig deeper.


Which brings us to our second point: at some point, once the attorney has gotten the opportunity to get their hands on the file and start to figure out some of the basics, they’re going to have to dig deeper. But what does that mean? Well, maybe it means sending out a Freedom of Information request going and getting documents that are gathered by government agencies that have an obligation to investigate complaints, let’s say at an intersection, because the timing of the lights was off.

Or complaints about the condition of a sidewalk where people are consistently falling, tripping, injuring themselves, or investigations into companies based upon their construction practices. Looking at OSHA records, for example, in general, your attorney has the opportunity at that point and therefore the obligation to find out what else there is to know, whatever it is that you’ve reported to, and they’ve got to dig deeper. And that’s exactly what they’re going to be doing at that point.

In fact, if it’s the kind of case that proceeds through the early stages and then you realize you need to file a lawsuit against a company or an individual that caused your injuries, they’re gonna have to dig deeper at that stage as well.

They’re going to be digging into documents that are turned over by the other side. Reading those documents, comparing those documents to what’s publicly available, comparing those documents to what you recall happened. Having those consultations with you to get to the bottom of how that compares to what actually happened. Is it inconsistent? Why is it inconsistent? That’s all going to be very important in the course of investigating the case

In determining whether or not there’s more to it, and this includes interviewing people, whether it’s before the lawsuits filed or during the course of the case, your lawyer is going to be finding individuals, whether it’s the driver of the other vehicle that caused the crash, or maybe also his boss. Maybe the person that wrote the policies for how they dispatched people at that company. Or if it’s a hospital case: hospital administrators, supervisors, other doctors that may have been involved in the care and treatment of that person.

Digging deeper is where you make the case. Digging deeper is where the attorney can find those Nuggets. Find those pieces of information. They’re gonna help prove that it happened the way that you said it happened that the other party was negligent and that that negligence, did cause your injuries? but it’s not enough just to dig into the facts and be a good researcher or even a good case builder.


Which brings us to our Third Point: throughout the course of representing you, it’s your attorneys obligation to guide you. You deserve to feel comfortable, even though the litigation process and the claims process are naturally uncomfortable processes. No judge in the world would say that the lawsuit process is designed to make the litigant feel comfortable. The person going through it just ultimately won’t feel comfortable.

But you still deserve to know what’s happening, and maybe that will explain to you why you’re going through this period of uncertainty. But you deserve to at least have an idea of why that’s happening. It’s your attorney’s obligation.

Educate you about the process, educate you about the timelines and guide you through it. Which sometimes means you have to ask that extra question. And so long as your attorney is willing to answer it, you’ll develop a greater understanding. And that’s where you can at least feel like you’ve gotten the right level of guidance and counseling that you deserve, because ultimately, we’re not just attorneys we’re also your counselor, and this also means your attorney has to be familiar with the rules.

It’s one thing maybe just have someone who’s been through a lawsuit before give you some sense of how it’s gonna happen and what’s gonna happen next. But knowing the complicated legal structure that surrounds your claim means your attorneys get the best understanding of how your case fits within state law or federal law, and how it fits in the process of how those things get resolved.

This is why it’s not easy stuff, but you deserve to at least know how it’s going, why it’s going that way, and what’s going to happen next.


Which brings us to the question of our last topic: can your lawyer bring it all home? Some cases should settle right away. Others should not. This all factors into the questions of, well, how long is it going to take for my case to get done? How is this all going to go? Those are not easy questions to answer from the outside because from the outset your attorney is still learning as much as you are. No case, no injured persons case should ever be settled until you get to the point where you’ve either completed your medical treatment or you’ve reached a level of stability that you know what your future is going to hold with some level of certainty.

Nobody’s got a crystal ball, at least not perfect. Crystal balls that are actually accurate. So there’s always some level of risk. But that’s again where your attorney has to be your counselor, your guide, and walk you through that process and make sure you feel comfortable that your questions have been answered. Maybe it is something that they can resolve quickly. Maybe it’s something where they have to file a lawsuit because that’s the best avenue to get you the best recovery that they can achieve.

Ultimately I like to say the right answer is the right answer. What do I mean by that? Well, it means that there are lots of individual things that make 2 seemingly very similar cases still very different.

It’s hard to find perfect analogies in the law, because the individual people involved in two different claims are just different people. Different insurance company, different employer, different day of the week. Having the capacity to know why those differences make a difference, how they impact the case, what to do strategically with that information, that’s where you deserve to have that explanation.

And that’s what your lawyer is going to be working on as an attorney handling your civil case for you.


Let’s talk about all of this and wrap it up with our closing argument.

In a civil matter, your lawyer’s job is to be your advocate and your counselor. They’ll be talking to you. Those conversations are privileged. They’ll be talking on your behalf and acting as a fierce warrior to the other parties involved in the case. Meanwhile, it’s their obligation to know the rules and shepherd your case through the process to a resolution that makes you feel comfortable, even if it’s not perfect, because they rarely are.

That’s our show.

This episode was brought to you by the law firm of Coogan Gallagher. You can find us on the Internet at and this episode was produced by Ear 4 audio.



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