Litigation is a process that can be understood by average people like us. Though it’s governed by rules, laws, regulations, and procedures, it’s written in plain English (mostly). Any playbook that lawyers and judges have come from these laws. They “run” the plays well because they’ve dealt with more cases than we have. Since we have just one, we must run the plays on a learn-as-you-go basis. That requires starting with the basics, like understanding the structure or stages, of litigation. And if you need help representing yourself in civil court, it’s time to join Courtroom5.
Elements of a claim or defense are the most important building blocks of a case. They’re the engine in a train, the heat in boiling water, the lemons in lemonade, the zip in a zipper! In litigation, elements are everything that make up a case. Ignore them at your peril.
Discovery plays a major role in the litigation process. When done right, it can help you prove your case or disprove your opponent’s case. A motion to compel discovery is a major tool for getting evidence on the record. When you don’t want your information released, be prepared to hit back hard against this powerful discovery tool.
Litigation documents are not the first thing the average person thinks about when they hear the term “legal documents”. Wills, deeds, powers of attorney, tax forms, come to mind first. These are legal documents, but they’re not for the purposes of litigation.
Litigation documents are less formulaic and more intimidating than these. Their purpose is to move a lawsuit along. In that sense, they’re more powerful than documents written on pre-printed forms.
A lawyer is not in charge of your pro se case. You are. In fact, reluctance to take charge can land you in deep muck when you don’t object at the right time. This is the lesson learned by a hapless divorced man who pays dearly for not objecting to objectionable interrogatories.
Litigation is fluid, and you can file many documents at any stage. However, this list will make you aware of available litigation documents and when they are most commonly filed.
Understanding the litigation process will help you formulate the basic strategies you need to put up an effective fight. These simple strategies are designed to give you an idea of things to look out for at each stage of litigation.
Discovery can be a mind-boggling lineup of requests for admissions, requests for production of documents, requests for interrogatories, depositions, motions to compel, protective orders, and notices. Despite all that, your strategy for discovery is to get as much out of your opponent as you can while holding back as much as the law will allow.
When you do it right, litigation is a slow and lengthy process, with peaks and valleys of activity. You’re tempted to lose focus when things slow down. But that’s just what your opponent may be waiting for.
After five months with no activity, you’re slapped with a summary judgment motion that could end your case prematurely, and not in your favor. You could’ve prepared, but you’d decided to let things die down and respond as necessary. Now you’re paying for it. It’s always better to stay on offense when you’re engaged in battle.