When you put your future in the hands of an attorney, you want to feel secure in your decision. Most of the time, the process works as it should. Sometimes, however, the attorney is negligent, causing damage to the case. If you suffered serious consequences because of your attorney's negligence, you may have a claim for legal malpractice. To understand what went wrong in the representation, it can help to understand the steps involved in a civil lawsuit. This article will give you insight into how a typical lawsuit plays out and how yours may have differed.
Contact a lawyer to discuss whether you have a claim for legal malpractice.
The Life of a Civil Lawsuit
A civil lawsuit — a lawsuit that is filed in civil court, as opposed to criminal court — must go through numerous steps before it even gets to trial. Lawsuits often undergo frustrating delays and setbacks. It is all part of a process designed to ensure that each side has an opportunity to gather the information it needs to prepare its case.
The specifics of the steps may vary depending on whether you are in state or federal court; which state you are in; and the details of your case. The overall pattern of a civil lawsuit, however, remains fairly consistent.
- The plaintiff (the person or entity filing the lawsuit) files a complaint with the court, usually through a lawyer. The complaint briefly outlines who the plaintiff and the defendant are; the claims against the defendant; and what the plaintiff wants from the defendant.
- The defendant (the person or entity being sued) is served with papers describing the lawsuit. The defendant has a limited number of days to answer the complaint, responding to the plaintiff's allegations. If the defendant does not answer the complaint within the given time period, the court may enter a default judgment against the defendant. If the defendant makes allegations against the plaintiff, the plaintiff has to answer, too.
- A lot happens during the period between filing the complaint and getting into court. The plaintiff or the defendant may file motions, including asking the court to rule in its favor because the case can only be decided one way according to the law. It is rare that the court actually does this, however.
- Both sides go through a process called discovery. They are allowed to ask each other questions and request documents that are related to the lawsuit. They are also allowed to question people who have information that is pertinent to the lawsuit.
- The parties may discuss a settlement at this point. If they are able to agree on a resolution, then the process stops here. If they cannot agree, both sides continue to use the information they learned during discovery to prepare for trial.
- The trial is conducted in front of a judge, and sometimes a jury too. If there is to be a jury, the lawyers for the plaintiff and the defendant question potential jury members to see which people are suitable to sit on the jury.
- During the trial, both the plaintiff and defendant will have an opportunity to present their sides of the case. The judge always decides issues of law; the judge will decide on the ultimate outcome of the case, too, unless there is a jury.
- The trial typically will end with a finding in favor of the plaintiff or defendant on each issue. The defendant may be ordered to pay the plaintiff damages (and even attorney's fees, although this is unusual).
If the plaintiff wins, the plaintiff's attorney may be entitled to a percentage of the award. This depends on the agreement that the plaintiff and the lawyer made at the beginning of their relationship.
- The plaintiff or defendant may file further motions with the trial court.
- The plaintiff or defendant may appeal the case. Whether the appeal is successful depends on how the appeals court views the decisions made by the trial court.
This process can take months or years. The more issues that are resolved before trial, the faster the process will go.
Consult an Attorney
If you have reason to believe that your lawyer mishandled your lawsuit, directly affecting the outcome of the case, contact an attorney to discuss your legal options.
FindLaw, a Thomson Business
DISCLAIMER: This site and any information contained herein are intended for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. Seek competent legal counsel for advice on any legal matter.
Return to Main