An Overview of the Litigation Process

When I use the term litigation, I am talking about a lawsuit or court case. No matter how complicated or simple the case, each piece of litigation involves basically the same set of steps.  Even in settings which are not technically courts, such as administrative agencies, like the parking violations bureau,or an arbitration, the steps are largely the same.

Those steps are pleadings, discovery and trial.

In the pleadings stage, the parties are basically laying out their claims and defenses, notifying the other party of those claims and defenses, and sometimes challenging the sufficiency of what the other party has done at this stage of the litigation.  In discovery, each party is seeking information from the other party, and, often, though not in all cases, from others who are not parties to the lawsuit.  In the trial step, the parties are pulling together their arguments, and presenting them to the decision-maker, that is, the judge, jury or equivalent.  The trial ends with some type of determination, which can be appealed.

In some cases, there may be one or two additional steps. One happens between the pleadings and discovery steps. This step involves seeking interim relief, that is, some form of relief granted during the pendency of a lawsuit. Although I will not be getting into the details of domestic relations cases, such as divorce or child custody, a common example of interim relief is a temporary order of support.  Another example would be a preliminary injunction.  There will be a separate post on injunctions later.

The other potential step in the litigation process happens between the discovery and trial steps. This additional step is a motion for summary judgment.  You can think of a motion for summary judgment as being a trial on papers.  In theory, a motion for summary judgment is appropriate only when there is no dispute about the facts.  In other words, everybody should be in agreement as to what happened.  The only question is the legal consequence of the agreed facts.  There will be more about summary judgment in a later post..

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