The Six Stages of Civil Litigation

Civil litigation can be divided into six distinct stages. Some of these litigation steps sometimes get skipped. At other times, they overlap. But no stage is more important than any other. Here are the six steps of civil litigation.

The Six Stages of Civil Litigation -- LEE LEGAL -- DC litigation attorney

I. Investigation

You must thoroughly investigate your claims and defenses and counterclaims because you must be able to produce evidence to back up every assertion you make in litigation. Your opponent’s job is to do damage to the either the credibility or the viability of your claims. Obtain every piece of information pertinent to the specific facts of your case. Focus on obtaining evidence central to the key factual disputes.

II. Pleading

Pleadings are informations formally filed with the court, including Complaints, Answers, and also Motions, which are requests for some action enforceable by the court. Drafted and filed and served, pleadings are the public view of your private case.

III. Discovery

Discovery typically takes the most time in a civil litigation case. The discovery stage includes depositions, interrogatories, requests for production of documents, and subpoenas. Labor-intensive, the discovery process is often where a case is won or lost. Without the information and documentation of the claims you assert, you will not be able prove your case and you will not win.

IV. Pre-trial proceedings

Pre-trial may be extended or truncated, depending on how far apart the parties are on the key issues. During the pre-trial phase, a party may file a Motion to Compel, Motion for Summary Judgment, and/or a Motion to Dismiss. Each of these requests require their own standard for legal sufficiency.

Often, even when a motion is denied, these pleadings can set the tone for the next phase of the case: At the pre-trial conference, the judge will schedule the trial and set timelines and other parameters.

V. Trial

Most lawsuits do not proceed to trial. Most cases settle. Only genuine issues of fact should be litigated. Facts not at issue are stipulated by the counterparties.

Good civil litigators spend comparatively little time at trial. Adequate bilateral representation can candidly quantify the parties’ probabilities of success prior to trial. Thus is settlement reached.

Parties can even settle during trial. Judges generally welcome settlement. In many civil litigation cases, the named party need never enter the courtroom.

VI. Appeal

Unlike trials, which adjudicate factual disputes, appeals adjudicate disputes over interpretation of the law. Appeals courts do not ignore facts. But appeals of a trial-court decision must question its legal (and not factual) validity. Parties who file appeals face an uphill climb, yet successful appeals can shape the way in which our laws are interpreted.

Navigating the civil litigation process

Different courts and local rules apply different timelines to each stage. A civil litigation case can run from a few months to several years. Understanding the six stages of civil litigation will allow you to map your case and craft a winning litigation plan.

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