"Administrative Tribunal" is a term that can describe a wide variety of boards, commissions, regulatory bodies or individuals exercising power or authority pursuant to some governmental mandate. At their most complex, administrative tribunals may be sophisticated organizations such as, in Canada, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission. Other examples would include professional regulatory bodies such as the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario or the Law Society of Upper Canada (which regulates lawyers in Ontario) and various municipal authorities such as committees of adjustment and the like.
Administrative Tribunals differ from Courts in that their members are not typically judges (although they can be), they exercise limited jurisdiction (usually with respect to specific tasks or subject matter, often where they are expected to have special expertise judges do not have) and they employ a wide variety of different procedural mechanisms of greater or lesser complexity depending upon the nature of their activities.
There are so many different administrative tribunals that it is difficult to characterize them generally. So far as civil litigation is concerned, it is important to note that sometimes disputes that otherwise might be dealt with in a court can be dealt with, in whole or in part, by administrative tribunals. In some cases, administrative tribunals are exclusively tasked with the resolution of certain kinds of issues, such as, for example, the Copyright Board of Canada which determines the rates to be paid for copyright royalties associated with distribution of television programming in certain contexts.
Having an issue determined by an administrative tribunal can involve witnesses, documentary evidence, and legal argument just as a court proceeding does, although it doesn't always. It is important in any given case to know the rules and practices by which a tribunal operates. While sometimes looking much like a court proceeding, a tribunal proceeding may have very different requirements concerning what is permissible evidence, and equally different procedures that deal with exchange of information and documentation amongst the participants in advance. One thing that is common amongst courts and tribunals, however, is the necessity for counsel to understand the particular procedure and rules of evidence that apply, and to be persuasive within that framework. Good civil litigators apply fundamentally the same skills whether they are in a court or before an administrative tribunal.
Lloyd's view: Some tribunals are typically attended upon by lawyers with special expertise in connection with the subject matter usually dealt with by the tribunals. Versatile civil litigation lawyers often have the ability to apply their skills in a variety of different court and administrative contexts. The expertise associated with practice before a particular tribunal is one factor to be considered when choosing counsel for this purpose, but other factors, largely as outlined in the "Choosing Civil Litigation Counsel" section of this website, should also be considered. Making sure you have the right counsel for you and for the job, whether before a court or administrative tribunal, is a key part of intelligent litigating.