An Overview of the Litigation Process
When a new conflict arises and you seek the advice of an attorney, the unfamiliar process of litigation can be intimidating. It may feel like the uncertainty of the outcome, time, costs, and effort make it difficult to know whether to pursue legal action. In this blog post, we will discuss the general process of litigation. Hopefully with more understanding of the phases of litigation, you will be better able to understand the litigation process and your attorney’s advice.
The process of civil litigation begins when one of the parties, called the Plaintiff, files a Summons and Complaint against the other party, called the Defendant. The Complaint formally lays out the conflict between the parties, alleges the Defendant caused some harm, and that the Plaintiff has a legal theory entitling the Plaintiff to some form of relief or compensation. The Summons notifies the Defendant of the lawsuit. The Summons and Complaint also begins the “pleadings” stage of litigation. The term pleadings refer to the stage in litigation where the parties lay out and refine their claims before proceeding to trial. After the Defendant receives the Complaint, the Defendant must file an Answer by the statutory deadline. In this document, the Defendant must respond to the allegations made by the Plaintiff in the Complaint. If the Defendant chooses, the Defendant may add a counter-claim which alleges that the Plaintiff is liable for some harm caused to the Defendant. If a Defendant files a counter-claim, the Plaintiff can choose to reply. During the pleadings stage, each party has opportunities to amend these documents and add additional parties to the case, if necessary. In this stage, the court has a hands-off approach to the case unless there are conflicts between the parties that require a judge’s decision.
After the pleadings stage is the “Discovery stage.” The Discovery stage usually begins with a scheduling conference where the parties meet and lay out an anticipated timeline for the rest of litigation and trial. Discovery is usually the longest stage of litigation, and often conflicts arise between parties regarding the kinds of the discovery requests each party makes. This stage focuses on developing the facts and legal theories of the case to further support the parties’ claims. Each party may submit Interrogatories, or questions, for the other party to answer. The parties will also file Requests for Production of Documents which ask that the other party provide certain information for review. Each party may also serve Requests for Admission that ask the other party to admit or deny key factual statements. The Discovery phase also includes depositions where witnesses and the parties themselves will be asked questions under oath by an opposing attorney. The questions asked and the testimony given during depositions allow the attorneys to find strengths and weaknesses in each party’s case prior to trial.
After Discovery the case approaches trial, although there will likely be a significant period of time between the end of Discovery and trial to allow each party to prepare their case. Throughout the entire litigation process, attorneys may file motions which ask the court to make certain rules for the rest of the case. It’s important to note that at any point in the litigation process, the parties may decide to settle the case without proceeding to trial. Settlement is always an option, even right up to the day before trial.
Now that you have a general overview of the litigation process, you may have questions about your own legal matters. A legal blog post can serve as an introduction to legal topics, but it should never be considered legal advice. Contact an attorney at Kelly & Brand, Attorneys at Law, LLC for sound legal advice tailored to your specific circumstances.