Bacterial pathogens employ the type III secretion system to secrete and translocate effector proteins into their hosts. The primary function of these effector proteins is believed to be the suppression of host defence responses or innate immunity. However, some effector proteins may be recognized by the host and consequently trigger a targeted immune response. The YopJ/HopZ/AvrRxv family of bacterial effector proteins is a widely distributed and evolutionarily diverse family, found in both animal and plant pathogens, as well as plant symbionts. How can an effector family effectively promote the virulence of pathogens on hosts from two separate kingdoms? Our understanding of the evolutionary relationships among the YopJ superfamily members provides an excellent opportunity to address this question and to investigate the functions and virulence strategies of a diverse type III effector family in animal and plant hosts. In this work, we briefly review the literature on YopJ, the archetypal member from Yersinia pestis, and discuss members of the superfamily in species of Pseudomonas, Xanthomonas, Ralstonia and Rhizobium. We review the molecular and cellular functions, if known, of the YopJ homologues in plants, and highlight the diversity of responses in different plant species, with a particular focus on the Pseudomonas syringae HopZ family. The YopJ superfamily provides an excellent foundation for the study of effector diversification in the context of wide-ranging, co-evolutionary interactions.