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Pros and Cons of Being a Civil Rights Plaintiffs' Lawyer

By George Khoury, Esq. on September 14, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

So long as you're doing plaintiff work, being a civil rights attorney is about the most noble calling a private attorney can answer. But that's not to say that practicing in the area is not without its pitfalls.

Below, you'll find a short list of some of the pros and cons attendant to being a civil rights plaintiffs' lawyer.

Pro 1: (Almost) Everyone You Meet Loves You

Seriously, you will be the center of attention at parties and gatherings. Your cases will likely be interesting and meaningful and people will actually want to hear about them (even if they don't agree with you). You won't be viewed as a boring desk jockey, but rather as a social justice advocate (for better or worse, depending on the company you keep).

Pro 2: You Can Sleep at Night

Helping people who have had their civil rights violated is rather rewarding. If the stress of litigation is something you can live with, you'll be able to sleep just fine as your conscious will be clear as you are fighting the righteous good fight.

Pro 3: Civil Rights Laws Are Really Fascinating

While the major federal civil rights laws may have been around for decades, new statutes continue to be passed, and new cases continue to be handed down that change everything. There is a rich history behind the passage of these laws which makes legal research much more interesting.

Con 1: The Stress Is Real

Most civil rights practitioners work on a contingency basis, which makes the business pressures of being a civil rights attorney rather stressful. Even cases that seem clear cut can be lost due to a bad jury pool, or any of the other unknowables that can come up at trial. And when it's your money on the line, the stress can become distracting.

Also, if you're doing really meaningful work, death threats are to be expected, and those can often be somewhat distressing.

Con 2: Your Clients Have Been Through Hell, and You Have to Take Them Back There

While being able to help a person that has had their civil rights violated may fill you with pride, it is emotionally draining for both you and your clients. Preparing a client for a deposition or trial, or having them confirm answers to interrogatories or requests for admissions, can be a real challenge, mentally, especially if that client has suffered injury or emotional harm as a result of discrimination or police brutality. It may be harder on your client to recount their experiences, but it is not easy on you either, regardless of how "professional" you are.

Con 3: The Law Is Stacked Against You and Your Clients

Even though the standard of proof in civil court is but a mere preponderance, civil rights claims are almost always viewed dubiously by the public. Due to the sheer volume of civil rights claims the courts must process, mostly due to cases related to the poor treatment of incarcerated individuals, the process, and statutes themselves, can often feel overly onerous for a plaintiff with a meritorious case. Sadly, the Supreme Court recently pulled back the doctrine that allowed federal agents to be liable for civil rights violations. But if you like a challenge, then you'll have your work cut out for you.

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