Litigation refers to any lawsuit or other resort to the courts to determine a legal question or matter. Litigation can include wills/estate planning, incorporating businesses, contract drafting, real-estate transactions, and disputes with administrative bodies, just to name a few.

Helpful Terms:

Arbitration: A mini-trial, which may be for a lawsuit ready to go to trial, held in an attempt to avoid a court trial and conducted by a person or a panel of people who are not judges. The arbitration may be agreed to by the parties, may be required by a provision in a contract for settling disputes, or may be provided for under statute.

Mediation: The attempt to settle a legal dispute through active participation of a third party (mediator) who works to find points of agreement and make those in conflict agree on a fair result. Mediation differs from arbitration, in which the third party (arbitrator) acts much like a judge in an out-of-court, less formal setting but does not actively participate in the discussion. Mediation has become more frequent in contract and civil damage cases. There are professional mediators or lawyers who do some mediation for substantial fees, but the financial cost is less than fighting the matter out in court and may achieve early settlement and an end to anxiety. However, mediation does not always result in a settlement.

Small Claims Court: The District Court hears cases involving relatively small amounts of money. The highest (jurisdictional) amount that can be considered in small claims court is $7000.00. In small claims court the filing fee is low, there is no jury, the procedure is fairly informal, each side has a short time to present his/her case and the right to appeal only permits a trial de novo (a new trial) at the next court level. Small claims court is a quick, inexpensive way to settle lesser legal disputes, although the controversies are often important to the participants.

District Court: In the federal court system, a trial court for federal cases in a court district, which is all or a portion of a state. In the state system, the District Court hears claims under $25,000.

Superior Court: This is the primary court and hears substantial civil and criminal actions.

Federal Court: The court system that handles civil and criminal cases based on jurisdictions enumerated in the Constitution and federal statutes. They include federal district courts which are trial courts, district courts of appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court, as well as specialized courts such as bankruptcy, tax, claims (against the government) and veterans’ appeals.

Discovery: The process by which the parties involved in a lawsuit gather information about the other party. The parties are permitted to probe each other for information and documents helpful to their respective case. Please note that in small claims court discovery is limited.

Appeals: Appeals are situations in which the losing party in a lawsuit decides to appeal the court’s decision. However, one needs to be very careful when deciding what to appeal. Appellate courts give wide discretion to trial courts concerning their findings of fact. In addition, appeals are costly and usually involve a great deal of time and preparation.

FAQs regarding Litigation:

What is the Litigation Process?

Normally, the litigation process begins with one party suing another, leading to either an answer to the claim, or a countersuit. The two parties, the plaintiff (the one who did the suing) and the defendant (the one who was sued), are allowed a discovery period to collect and gather information regarding the case. The parties then have the option of meeting in either mediation or alternative dispute resolution. If that does not work, they head to trial. Upon reaching a verdict, the trial may be over, or appeals may be filed.

Are Jury Trials necessary?

A jury trial is not required during a case. Just trials, as compared to bench trials (those in front of a judge), and more complicated and time consuming, thus more costly. Sometimes it is crucial to have a case heard by a jury of one’s peers, while other times it is not. Having a jury trial really depends on the type of case in question.