The timing of a lawsuit is difficult to predict. It depends on many things, including actions the Defendant takes, Court schedules, and decisions made by the client. A lawsuit can take up to two years or longer to settle or go to trial. 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 many times over. The steps listed here are the main steps that occur in a lawsuit. They will give a general idea of what to expect.
Gathering the facts
With the client's help, the lawyer gathers all the available facts concerning the claim, including interviewing and taking statements from witnesses. The lawyer sometimes hires investigators or experts, so this step involves expenses.
Starting the lawsuit
The lawyer begins the lawsuit by preparing the necessary Court documents and filing them in Court. The Court date-stamps all copies of the documents, keeping one copy for their record. The lawyer then delivers filed copies to the Defendant's lawyers. This step involves expenses such as filing fees.
After The lawyer starts a lawsuit, but before trial, the lawyer or the Defendant'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 are usually about how the lawsuit should be handled. For example, the lawyer might ask the Court to order that the Defendant show a particular letter or document that the Defendant would rather not let the lawyer see.
Examination for discovery
After gathering the facts, either the lawyer or the Defendant's lawyers arrange an examination for discovery. The lawyer questions the Defendant under oath about the matter at hand. The lawyer also asks the Defendant to show what relevant documents the Defendant has, and to tell about all relevant documents he or she has ever owned or had access to. In return, the Defendant's lawyers questions the lawyer's client about the matter at hand. The lawyer gives the Defendant copies of the documents that relate to the lawsuit, and the client describes all relevant documents he or she once had or had access to.
Review of the law
Once the lawyer has a good idea of all the facts, the lawyer reviews the law. The lawyer then gives the client his or her legal opinion about what the likely outcome of a trial would be.
Negotiation and settlement
When it is appropriate, the lawyer talks with the Defendant's lawyers to see if they will settle the claim. 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.
Preparation for trial
The lawyer prepares the case for trial, including getting all the necessary documents together, arranging for witnesses to attend, and preparing any legal opinions.
The lawyer acts for his or her client at the trial. When the judge has decided the case, which could be a few days or weeks after the trial, the lawyer prepares the Court order for the judge to sign, or approves how the other lawyers write up the judgment to make sure it is correct.
Completing the claim
The lawyer does all the work necessary to complete the claim. This includes giving the client money from settlement or judgment, after deducting their fees and expenses. However, it does not include starting new steps such as enforcing or appealing a Court judgment. To enforce a judgment means to start proceedings to force the Defendant to actually pay what he or she has been ordered to pay. To appeal a judgment means to start work to get a higher Court to change the original Court's judgment.
This material was adapted from material produced by the Continuing Legal Education Society of Britiush Columbia
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