A Crash Course in Civil Litigation
Step 1: Where to Sue?
You don't need three years of law school to know that there are many different courts with many different functions. But what's the right court for your case?
Step 2: Filing Suit
What exactly is a "lawsuit"? Learn more about the legal paper that must be filed at the start of the civil litigation process.
Step 3: Serving Process
After filing suit, the plaintiff must serve "process" on the defendant. What papers must be served and how?
Step 4: Playing Defense
After being served, defendants have a limited time to respond to the Complaint. What must you file and when?
Step 5: Discovery
As its name suggests, discovery is the investigative phase of litigation. How can we use it to avoid unpleasant surprises at trial?
Step 6: Pretrial Motions
Just because a lawsuit has been filed, that does not mean that the case will ultimately go to trial. Much can happen en route to the courthouse.
Step 7: The Trial
It's showtime! How are cases tried in Maryland courtrooms? What does it take to win?
Step 8: Post-Trial Motions
If you lose at trial, that doesn't always mean that your case is over. There may be things you can do to grab a victory from the jaws of defeat.
Step 9: Collecting Judgments
Congratulations plaintiff! You met your burden of proof and won at trial. Now what can you with that judgment?
Step 10: Appeals
If your case didn't appeal to the judge or jury, can you appeal to a higher authority?
Litigation is not exactly a contact sport, but it isn't always "civil" either. In fact, winning the litigation game is a lot like winning in football. Solid preparation, aggressive execution of the game plan, speed, and the ability to think on your feet are the keys to victory in both sports.
Like football, judges serve as referees, making sure the rules of the game are followed. Yet, unlike football, most cases are decided by spectators sitting in box seats. The jury is the ultimate scorekeeper. There are deadlines, but the buzzer takes much more than 60 minutes to sound. The challenges of increasingly complex litigation in congested court systems don't let us resolve cases in an hour. Depending on where suit is filed, cases may take as little as three months or as long as two years -- that is, before one endures postponements which are common to the litigation process.
Not all cases get to trial and even those that do will not necessarily end with the jury's verdict. Beyond pretrial and post-trial motions, an appeal may add months or years to the litigation clock.