Civil law is the branch of law dealing with disputes between individuals or organizations, involving questions of payment or compensation. (Criminal law, on the other hand, emphasizes fines and punishment, and is administered by the state.) Civil litigation attempts to redress a wrong (called in law a “tort”), fulfil obligations set in place by an agreement, or settle a dispute. If there is a victim (the “plaintiff”), they may receive compensation from the wrongdoer(s) (the “defendant[s]”), often in amounts that are fixed by a jury after trial, or in a settlement reached beforehand. Equity is the branch of civil law that deals with remedies beyond compensation alone – such as injunctions, or divorce. In civil law cases, the “burden of proof” requires the plaintiff to convince the trier of fact (whether judge or jury) of the plaintiff’s entitlement to the relief sought by “a preponderance of the evidence”, that is to say, that the plaintiff’s version is more likely what occurred. A plaintiff must satisfy this burden as to each element in his case.
A judgment entered following a trial or hearing may be appealed to a higher court. The appellate court (frequently a panel of three or more justices) reviews the evidence admitted at trial, along with a transcript of the proceedings (if one was made), and determines whether the judgment was properly based on the law and on the evidence. If it so finds, it affirmsthe judgment; if not, it reversesthe judgment and sends the case back for another trial. The job of the appellate attorney is to convince the panel to rule in his client’s favor through the arguments he makes in his written briefs to the court, and before the panel personally if it holds a hearing on the case. Not every case receives a hearing; the court sometimes decides it can rule without needing one.