Understanding the Process of Litigation
Litigating a case involves resolving a dispute through the public court system. It entails various steps, such as filing a complaint, providing an answer, engaging in written discovery, conducting depositions, handling discovery motions, presenting dispositive motions, and potentially going through a trial by jury. Throughout this complex and lengthy process, lawyers must follow orders from the judge, collaborate with opposing counsel, analyze different aspects of the case, and prepare materials for submission and filing, all while managing multiple cases in different courts.
Will a Case Always Go to Trial?
Contrary to popular belief, litigating a case doesn’t always end up in a formal trial before a judge and jury. In fact, approximately 97% of civil cases reach a resolution without going to trial. This is because taking a case to trial is like flipping a coin – there is no guarantee that a jury or judge will rule in favor of a particular party. Consequently, many parties prefer to settle before trial, as it allows them to determine the outcome rather than leaving it to chance. However, reaching a settlement poses its own challenge of getting both parties to agree, and as with everything in litigation, this takes time.
How Long Does the Litigation Process Last?
The duration of litigating a case can vary greatly, ranging from a few days to several years. The start of a case occurs when the plaintiff files a complaint in civil court, claiming that the opposing party owes them damages of some sort.
If the parties engage in early discussions and reach an agreement, the case can be settled swiftly, within a few days, weeks, or months. However, settlement discussions can commence at any point during the litigation process, be it at the beginning or much later, and can continue through various phases.
While the resolution within a few days is highly unlikely, it is also uncommon for a case to be resolved in such a short timeframe. In practice, it often takes a significantly longer period. For instance, after filing a case, both parties’ attorneys meet and establish deadlines based on the judge’s order. Typically, a trial date is set twelve (12) months after the defendant receives the complaint. Hence, if a settlement is not possible, it may take a year before the case reaches a judge and/or jury. Nevertheless, even trial dates are subject to change and are frequently delayed for weeks, months, or even years. Consequently, while litigating a case can conclude in a matter of days, weeks, or months, it is more probable that it will take years.
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