Each time I begin working with a new client, I find myself explaining what will be involved in the handling of their lawsuit. Most people generally understand that a lawsuit involves two parties that have a disagreement they cannot resolve on their own, so they turn to the Courts; but, they do not know the various steps involved in bringing or defending a lawsuit.
Being able to provide clients with a solid understanding of the process helps build a strong case. As I waited for another football Sunday to kick-off last weekend, it dawned on me that the stages of a lawsuit can really be explained using the quarters of a football game. So below is my attempt at explaining the admittedly confusing (and sometimes mundane) stages of a lawsuit using the more exciting stages of America’s favorite fall pastime.
In the week leading-up to their clash on the gridiron, the two teams study their opponent and put together their plan to win the game.
Similarly, parties facing a lawsuit must gather all the facts and documentation relating to the underlying dispute and determine the best way to pursue (or defend against) their claims. In football and in litigation, the side that is better prepared will ultimately win the contest.
With the opening kick-off, the first quarter of a football game begins and the two teams start implementing their game plans toward victory.
Similarly, a lawsuit begins with the plaintiff (the party seeking relief) kicking-off the proceedings by (in most cases) filing a complaint. The complaint is the plaintiff’s written summary of what happened to give rise to the lawsuit, and why the plaintiff believes he or she is legally entitled to relief. The defendant (the party being sued) is served with the complaint and must respond. Most often the defendant responds by filing an answer denying the plaintiff’s claims and setting forth any factual or legal defenses thereto. These initial filings are called the pleadings and they set the stage for the rest of the lawsuit.
As the football game moves into the second quarter, the teams continue to feel each other out and determine the opponent’s tactics and weaknesses.
The second stage of a lawsuit typically sees the parties exchanging written discovery. The parties send each other written requests for information and documents relating to the claims and defenses in the case. The responsive information must be provided within certain defined time periods. As with the big men on the offensive line, “holding” is prevalent at this stage. Parties that fail to comply face “penalties” from the Court, which drags out the action and annoys the participants.
At halftime of the football game, the teams review their opponent’s tactics in the first two quarters and try to pinpoint specific ways to exploit weaknesses and take over the game.
After the pleadings and written discovery, the parties to a lawsuit often do the same thing. They examine helpful and harmful information gathered so far and decide where the case is heading. Sometimes at this point the parties discuss settlement, seeing that the ultimate benefit of pursuing the lawsuit to the end may not outweigh the time and expense required to move forward. If a resolution cannot be reached, the parties proceed to the next stage.
The third quarter of a football game sees the teams come out and start making those halftime adjustments needed to turn the game in their favor and push them toward victory.
The next stage of a lawsuit involves depositions. A deposition is a question and answer session, recorded by a court reporter, during which a witness must respond under oath to questions relating to the case. The parties can take depositions of each other and any third party witnesses that they feel have pertinent information. Depositions often produce the most beneficial information for prosecuting or defending a lawsuit, lining the case up for settlement or trial. However, depositions are also time-consuming and expensive, with the court reporter’s transcript alone costing several hundred dollars.
The fourth quarter of a football game is crunch time. Time is running out and a winner must be determined. The team with the better players and better strategy usually ends up on top.
After discovery ends, a lawsuit also heads into crunch time. The case is sometimes scheduled for a mediation or settlement conference, but ultimately must be scheduled for trial. If the parties cannot resolve the dispute, the trial brings a final determination to the case. The parties take the evidence collected in written discovery and depositions, and present it before a jury or judge, who decides a winner.
Even this truncated explanation of the different stages of a lawsuit shows that it is an involved and lengthy process. As a lawsuit proceeds, the costs of pursuing or defending it quickly mount up. Therefore, just like a football team preparing to take the field, it is important to come to play with a good team and a well-thought-out strategy toward an ultimate goal. Thinking of a lawsuit in several stages, like those of a football game, can assist in making sure that the ultimate goal is reached before the cost of the lawsuit begins exceeding the return.
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The information above is general: we recommend that you consult an attorney regarding your specific circumstances. The content of this information is not meant to be considered as legal advice or a substitute for legal representation.