The Litigation Process
Many of us are familiar with hearing the term litigation. However, not many people, apart from those who have a legal background, are able to fully define what this term means in a common sense. As a California citizen, it can be extremely helpful to understand what this legal process is so that you’re more familiar with the series of events if you end up dealing with a legal matter at some point in your lifetime.
The Basics of Legal Proceedings
At its very foundation, this term simply refers to the process of contesting and resolving problems in the legal system. These problems can range from something as simple as seeking payment for a parking ticket to medical malpractice lawsuits. It’s important to realize that legal proceedings and lawsuits are not the same thing. Lawsuits fall into the over-encompassing term of litigation. However, lawsuits are simply a type of legal proceeding.
The Six Steps of Litigation
To help better to define this legal term, it can help to look at the six specific steps of it that a person will go through. These include:
- Investigation and Demands
- Demand Letters / Pre-Trial Negotiations
- Formal Discovery
- Out of Court Dispute Resolution
- Post-Trial Proceedings
Before any of these steps take place, a specific event must have happened that caused harm to a person. The person that was harmed or their surviving family members may pursue legal counsel to seek out compensation for the harm that was caused to them or their loved one.
Investigation and Demands
The first step of this legal process starts when a person who underwent harm seeks assistance from a California attorney. This could be due to events like a catastrophic injury or an injury from a car accident. When a lawyer agrees to take on a person’s case, the first thing they’re going to do is an informal investigation into the specific facts of the case.
Each California attorney and their team will conduct their independent research to get all the accessible documentation and proof that the injury or violation occurred. This will include things like photo evidence, accident reports from the police, and so forth. In cases where injuries have occurred, it’s very likely that your California lawyer will want you to keep accurate records of the doctors and specialists that you visit going into the future.
Demand Letters / Pre-Trial Negotiations
The next step of this process is sending out a demand letter. Your chosen lawyer will compose this demand letter in a specific format depending on the type of legal situation that you’re in. For example, this demand letter may be an eviction notice or some other form of communication that needs to go to the offending party.
This demand letter will include specific information that your lawyer found during their informal investigation process in the last step. This letter will also state what your desired compensation amount is. Most lawyers will set the compensation amount higher than they expect to receive as it’s just a starting negotiation amount.
The lawyer representing the offending party will receive this demand letter and discuss with their client if they want to send out their own letter offering a lower amount of compensation. The whole point of the demand letter and its response is to try and settle the legal situation outside of the courtroom.
Your legal counsel is going to be trying to convince the offending party’s lawyer that you would absolutely win if the case were to go to court, so they’re better off settling ahead of time. If you and the offending party both reach a settlement price, the legal process can stop right here without going to a courtroom.
Once the defendant has sent out an answer to the demand letter, the formal discovery process can begin. This process includes asking and responding to questions, turning over and seeking out specific documents related to the case, taking depositions, and requesting that the other side admits to certain facts of the case.
Many people get confused with depositions due to their formality. These are not actually formal court trials. Rather, depositions are formal question-and-answer proceedings that are conducted by legal representatives from both sides. There’s usually a videographer, and all information is taken down by a formal court reporter. Depositions can be used later on in the trial by either side. This entire formal discovery process can last anywhere from a couple of months to several years, depending on the complexity of the case.
Out of Court Dispute Resolutions
If you and the defendant are unable to reach an agreed-upon settlement price in the prior step, then your California attorney will likely opt for out of court dispute resolutions. These are considered alternative options to find a resolution to the situation as opposed to going into a full-blown courtroom trial. Dispute resolutions take on three different forms which are facilitation, mediation, and arbitration.
The least formal of all the three alternative dispute resolution options is facilitation. During this type of resolution, there will be one or more unbiased attorneys that will work to help both parties negotiate and determine a fair value of damages based on the disputed facts. The main goal of facilitation is to reach an out-of-court settlement.
Mediation is also a very informal dispute resolution tactic that involves one or more unbiased attorneys. Unlike facilitation, where the attorney or attorneys will work with both parties to reach a specific settlement, during mediation, the mediator will set a specific dollar value they feel is appropriate for the settlement of the case after reviewing all of the facts. This amount produced by the mediator can be agreed upon by both parties or declined, and the case will move to a courtroom for a full-blown trial.
Lastly, we have arbitration which is the most form of all three of the alternative dispute resolution options. This process is similar to a case that goes to court, except that it has much fewer bells and whistles. Instead of a judge or jury, an arbitrator is assigned to the court case. Each side will present its own facts and evidence regarding the case. At the end of the arbitration, the arbitrator will decide on the specific verdict of the case based on their understanding of the law.
If you’re unable to solve a case with an initial demand letter or alternative dispute resolution options, then you end up going to a courtroom for a full-blown trial. Courtroom proceedings include many different steps both in and outside of the courtroom. Some of the more common that people don’t realize happen outside of the courtroom are discovery and pre-trial motions.
If your case goes to a courtroom, the jury will listen to both sides, see all the evidence, and make a decision based on their understanding of the law. The jury’s decision is final for the case. However, if either party is dissatisfied with the outcome and believes that there was a mistake that was made, they may file for an appeal with a higher court.
After a trial is over, the litigation process still continues. During post-trial proceedings, attorneys from both sides will negotiate how the compensation is to be paid along with many other details of the case.
How Long Does This Process Typically Last?
When people start understanding what litigation is, one of their first questions is how long it typically lasts. The reality is that these legal proceedings can last just a couple of weeks or several years. If your demand letter is accepted right away or negotiations are quickly made and accepted, it can be very short. However, if you end up going to a courtroom trial, the whole process can take months to years to fully complete.