The litigation process generally follows this pattern.
1. Pre-litigation investigation and legal research. The cost and commitment to litigation can be substantial, even prohibitive. Going into it without a proper investigation of facts and the law can mean unfortunate surprises later. In litigation if there are to be surprises, you want to deliver them - not receive them.
2. Pleadings. "Pleadings" are the formal documents that define the claims and defenses. They are founded on preliminary investigation and research. Omitting a claim or defense, or defining one improperly, can mean motions later, and can be the difference between winning and losing a case. Courts require initial filing fees, currently approximately $320.00 in most counties.
3. Discovery. The discovery process is the structured, formal exploration of the other side's claims or defenses. It is an obligatory component of litigation. It includes written questions and responses, depositions, document production, and potentially inspections, and is governed by the Rules of Civil Procedure. This process usually occurs within the first 3 months after filing.
4. Mediation. Mediation is a settlement process mandated by the courts. Other alternative dispute resolution processes exist, but mediation is most popular, followed by arbitration. Mediation requires a neutral mediator, who generally bills hourly for his/her time; the cost is shared by the parties. There is no obligation to settle, even though there may be an obligation to mediate. Mediation generally lasts between 4 and 8 hours.
5. Motions. Motions are necessary when a party needs the court's assistance to resolve either a procedural issue or a substantive issue within the litigation. They can be non-dispositive (e.g., to resolve a discovery dispute or a scheduilng problem) or dispositive (e.g, for summary disposition of all or part of the case). Some are evidentiary in nature (testimony may be taken), others are not. Motions can be simple and perfunctory, or very complicated depending upon the issue and the nature of the dispute. Filing fees apply whether one brings or responds to a motion.
6. Pretrial/settlement conference. These court appearances may or may not require the parties' attendance. They are at the discretion of the court and may serve any number of purposes.
7. Trial. Trial is "the Show". It is the culmination of the case. Trial may be either by jury or by court, depending upon the nature of the issues and the preference of the parties. Typical trials may be as quick as an hour or two, or they may last for a week or more. Trials usually take place within 12 months after the case is filed. Due to docket crowding, civil trials tend to be postponed at least once before they proceed.
8. Post trial motions. Post trial motions are brought when a party believes the court's outcome was erroneous in some important regard. They can be complex or simple; they can be substantive or procedural in nature.
9. Appeal. The appellate process exists to challenge the final outcome of the trial, and in some cases to challenge a decision made prior to trial. Tight deadlines apply, along with strict procedural rules. Costs will not only include attorney fees for drafting and arguing the appeal, but filing fees, brief-binding expenses and often courier costs. In many instances, the appealing party is required to post a bond as well. An award of costs (not attorney fees) may be made in favor of the prevailing party.