Anatomy of a Lawsuit
We here at Boswell & Dunlap help all manner of clients in litigation. We have represented individuals, corporations, partnerships, limited liability companies, co-ops, HOAs, you name it. Sometimes our clients are the ones bringing suit, and sometimes they’re the ones defending it. Either way, the most common question asked of us is this: what’s going to happen?
Being roped into a civil case, whether by your own choosing or not, can be frightening. That’s why we have created the Legal Process Flowchart below to help you feel more confident in what may be coming down the pike. Please keep in mind that every court case is unique, and so these pieces don’t happen every time. Likewise, the timelines of a case can be altered and extended depending on the parties and what comes to pass during the litigation process. However, this Legal Process Flowchart acts as a helpful guide to help soothe one of our clients’ most worrying questions: what’s next?
LEGAL PROCESS FLOWCHART
A. Pre-Filing: Often this time period includes contacting the opposing party and discussing possible resolutions short of filing a lawsuit. This includes learning the facts of the case, researching legal theories and sending demand letters. The basis for the suit is broken down into one Claim for each legal issue. A lawsuit may be a single claim, or several, though the lawsuit is collectively referred to as a Complaint.
B. Filing: We file the Lawsuit with the Clerk of Court and personally serve the Respondent/Defendant. The Answer to the Complaint must be filed with twenty (20) days.
C. Respondent/Defendant files their Answer and lists Affirmative defenses and Motions to Dismiss, if applicable. An Affirmative Defense is a legal excuse for matters raised in a Claim and a Motion to Dismiss is raised when the Respondent believes there is no legal basis to move forward, or there is a missing element to the complaint. Complications include:
- Counter claims: Wherein the Respondent files a Claim based on the same facts against the Petitioner.
- Cross-Claims: Wherein either party files a claim on issues involving the same parties but arising from different facts.
- Third Party Claims: One of the parties alleges a third party had a role in the matter in the Complaint.
- Answers are required for any of the above, if filed.
D. Discovery: This is the process of learning about the case facts. Often, it is the most time-consuming process in litigation. Three primary tools are used:
- Depositions (Recorded interview/statement of witnesses)
- Interrogatories (Written Questions submitted by the parties to one another)
- Request to Produce/Admit/Inspect (Written communications designed to narrow the issue of dispute).
- Disputes about the above discovery tools are heard by the court if needed.
E. Setting the Matter at Issue: A party to the suit files a notice with the Court the matter is ready to proceed.
F. Case Management Conference: This sets the case on the Judge’s calendar for the first time, and results in a discussion with the Court and Order to complete tasks before setting the case on the trial calendar. Tasks include: listing witnesses, listing expert witnesses, listing exhibits, attending mediation, making efforts to narrow the issues before the Court and writing a brief statement of the matter at issue for the Judge to consider, among other details. The Court then issues a Pre-trial Order that the parties must comply with prior to setting a Pre-trial conference date with the Court.
G. Mediation: This is a Court required effort to reach a conclusion short of trial. The parties meet with an agreed upon expert mediator who listens to the positions of both sides then attempts to find common ground and reach a compromise solution. If a solution is reached, the Court ratifies same, if not, the mediator files a notice of impasse and the case is set for a Pre-trial Conference with the Judge.
H. Pre-trial conference: The parties meet with the Judge and discuss setting the case for trial, and review the Pre-Trial Order requirements, settle any disputes, hear preliminary motions, motion to limit the scope of the evidence (Motions In limine) and Motions to dismiss, etc.
I. The Case is set for trial: A date for the trial is set on the Judge’s Docket (Calendar) Depending on case age and duration, may take precedence or be “stacked” and only proceed to trial if other cases do not proceed. Often the parties will not know until the morning of the trial.
- Two (2) types of trials are available: Jury and Non-jury.
- Jury: If a jury trial is set, the Monday of the trial the parties will select jurors and the case will begin and take place the days following.
- Non-Jury: This type of case takes place when the Judge hears the facts, and renders the decision. It is generally faster, but should only be selected in cases with certain types of facts.
J. Judgment: The Court or jury renders a decision. If favorable, the Order is recorded with the Clerk of Court, then served on the losing party. Various methods of enforcement may be employed to collect and monetary results, as needed.
We have multiple litigators here at Boswell & Dunlap, and we pride ourselves in communicating with our clients and making sure they feel prepared every step of the way. If you are seeking representation in your court case, please be sure to contact us at 863-533-7117 and ask to speak to one of our litigation attorneys today.