It is difficult to predict how long your case will take to complete. The timing depends on many things including actions the opposing party takes, Court schedules, and your particular circumstances. For example, the timing of a personal injury case will be affected by the amount of time the plaintiff requires to recover from injuries.
A lawsuit can take up to two years or longer to settle or go to trial. However, most lawsuits go through the same basic steps, although not always in the same order. Some lawsuits skip some steps, and some steps are repeated. The steps listed here are the main steps that occur in a lawsuit. They will give you a general idea of what to expect.
Gathering the Facts
With your help, we gather all the available facts concerning the claim, including interviewing and taking statements from witnesses. Sometimes we hire investigators or experts to help us, so this step can involve expenses.
Starting the Lawsuit
If you are the plaintiff, we begin the lawsuit by preparing the necessary Court documents and filing them in Court. This means the Court date-stamps all copies of the documents, keeping the original for their official record. If you are the defendant, we prepare the necessary Court documents in reply to the plaintiff’s claim and file them in Court. Then we deliver filed copies of your Court documents to the opposing party or to their lawyers. This step also involves expenses such as Court filing fees and Process Server fees.
After we start a lawsuit, but before trial, we or the opposing party’s lawyers sometimes need to ask the Court to decide certain things. Going to Court to ask for an Order is called an interim application. These interim applications usually involve issues regarding how the lawsuit should be handled. For example, we might ask the Court to order the other side to show us a particular letter or document that they would rather not let us see.
Examinations for Discovery
The legal process is designed to allow both parties in a lawsuit to know what evidence witnesses will give and what documents each party is relying upon to support their case. This openness makes settlement before trial much more likely since both parties’ lawyers should be able to predict, to a certain extent, how the law will be applied to that evidence.
The formal discovery process begins with the parties exchanging their List of Documents. These lists identify all of the documents that each party has which relate to the lawsuit. The list also describes all relevant documents which a party had or had access to in the past but which are no longer in that party’s possession, such as income tax returns. The law requires that both parties identify all documents that relate to the case, even if those documents hurt their case.
After we exchange our List of Documents with the opposing party, either we or the opposing party’s lawyers arrange an Examination for Discovery. At the Examination for Discovery we will, if necessary, question the opposing party under oath about the claim. In return their lawyers have the opportunity to question you about the claim.
Negotiation and Settlement
Once we have a sufficient understanding of the facts and the applicable legal principles, we talk with the other side’s lawyers or insurers to see if we can settle the claim. In certain cases the parties may also participate in a mediation meeting, or a Settlement Conference before a judge.
A settlement is an agreement between the parties to a lawsuit which sets out how they will resolve the claim. If the claim is settled, it does not go to trial. We will make recommendations to you about the settlement process as negotiations proceed. More importantly, we will not commit you to any settlement agreement without your specific instructions to do so.
Preparation for Trial
If settlement efforts fail or, in some cases, while the settlement process continues, we will prepare your case for trial. Trial preparation includes getting all the necessary documents together, arranging for witnesses to attend, and preparing legal argument for presentation to the judge.
We act for you at the trial. After both sides have presented their evidence and legal argument the judge decides the case. The decision may be made immediately, or it may be given by the judge a few days or weeks after the trial.
Completing the Case
We do all the work necessary to complete the case, such as drafting the appropriate documents to formalize the settlement or trial judgment. Our Legal Services Agreement does not include starting new steps such as enforcing a judgment or appealing a Court Order or judgment.
To enforce a judgment means to start proceedings to force the opposing party to actually pay what he or she has been ordered to pay. To appeal an Order or judgment means to attempt to get a higher Court to change the original Court’s decision.
If any of these further steps are required, we will discuss the terms of another legal services agreement with you at that time.