What Does Litigate Mean?
The statement “litigating a case” refers to the process of resolving a dispute through the public court system. This process often includes, but isn’t limited to:
- Filing a complaint
- Filing an answer
- Written discovery
- Discovery motions
- Dispositive motions
- Trial by jury
In addressing these steps in litigation, a lawyer must adhere to orders from the presiding judge, work with opposing counsel, analyze various aspects of the case, and draft materials for submission and filing, while also managing numerous other cases in various courts. In sum, litigating a case is a complex, lengthy process.
Does Litigating a Case Require a Trial Before a Judge and/or Jury?
Litigating a case does not necessarily mean it will end up before a judge and jury in a formal trial setting. In actuality, approximately 97% of civil cases are resolved before going to trial. This is often the case because going to trial is like tossing a coin. Although each side has prepared their case and believes they are presenting the strongest argument(s), there is no guarantee a jury or judge will rule in that party’s favor. Therefore, many parties like to settle before trial, as this determines the outcome and does not leave it to chance. However, the greatest challenge in reaching a settlement is getting the two parties to agree. As with all things in litigation, this, too, takes time.
How Long Does it Take to Litigate a Case?
The timeframe in which a case is litigated from start to finish can be as short as a few days or as long as multiple years. A case is initiated when the plaintiff(s) files a complaint in civil court against another party, usually stipulating that the opposing party owes them some form of damages.
If the parties begin discussing resolution early on and ultimately reach an agreement, then the subsequent settlement of the case ends the matter. If negotiations are swift, then it could begin and end within a few days, weeks, or months. However, settlement discussions can begin at any time, whether at the outset of the case or at a much later date and continue on through various phases of litigation.
Although resolution within only a few days is a remote possibility, it is unlikely that a case will be resolved in such a short period of time, and, more often than not, it takes a significantly greater amount of time. For example, shortly after filing a case, counsel for both parties confer to set certain deadlines in accordance with a judge’s order. At that time, a trial date is typically set for twelve (12) months after the complaint was provided to the defendant. Thus, it could be a year before the case even goes before a judge and/or jury if settlement is not possible. However, even a trial is subject to change as they can and are often delayed for weeks, months, or even years. Thus, litigating a case can take as little as a few days, weeks, or months, but is more likely to take years.
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