Steps in a Lawsuit: Exchanging Documents

Once pleadings have been filed and exchanged, the next step in a lawsuit is for the parties to compile and exchange all documents in their possession or control that are relevant to the lawsuit. Given that the pleadings define the matters at issue in the lawsuit, they will form the basis for determining what documents are relevant and should be disclosed. For instance, in a personal injury case, a plaintiff’s medical records would be relevant to whether they were injured or not. In a breach of contract case, the contract alleged to have been breached would be relevant to establishing that there (a) was a contract between the parties, and (b) what each party’s rights and obligations were under that contract.

Each party, once having compiled all such documents, will list each of them on a list of documents. This list serves as a quick and easy reference for determining what documents the parties have. These lists are provided to the other parties who can then determine what documents they would like to request.

If a party who receives a list of documents from another party thinks that the list does not contain everything that it should, the party can demand the other party amend their list of documents and provide the documents that the party thinks should have been listed.

Just because a document is relevant to a lawsuit doesn’t mean that it has to be disclosed. Notably, any documents that fall under one or more categories of privilege need not be exchanged. For instance, any communications between a party and their lawyer, while relevant, would fall under solicitor-client privilege and therefore need not be exchanged.

Parties to a lawsuit have a continuous obligation to let each other know of relevant documents as and when they become available. In cases where new documents arise or become known over time, a party can serve an amended list of documents.