Home / Commentary  / Lawsuit: what happens before trial

Lawsuit: what happens before trial

If you are thinking of filing a lawsuit or are a party to a suit, learn what happens before going to court

If you are thinking of filing a lawsuit or are a party to a suit, learn what happens before going to court

A civil “litigation” occurs when legal disputes are to be decided and settled in a court of law (Merriam Websters). The final portion of litigation is a trial. Because some 90 percent of cases that are filed never make it to trial, it is worth discussing what happens from the time of filing.

ComptonHerald.com | Joe Richardson

“Legal Learning” is commentary by Joe Richardson, Esq. The column does not constitute legal advice, as individual cases turn on their particular facts.

Complaint, Service, and Response

A person or entity (plaintiff) files a lawsuit alleging particular causes of action. Then, the plaintiff completes service of the complaint on the party being complained about (defendant).

The defendant can then respond to the Complaint by filing an answer, challenging the sufficiency of the Complaint’s allegations (Demurrer), moving to strike allegations in the complaint (Motion to Strike), or questioning the jurisdiction of the Court (Motion to Quash). A defendant may decide to file a Cross-Complaint against the plaintiff or against another party.


The next phase is Discovery, where the parties can “discover” facts to help them either successfully prove or defend the case. Discovery can take the form of written questions (Interrogatories, Requests to Produce Documents, Requests for Admissions), and oral testimony (depositions). If an asking party seeks information from a non-party, there needs to be a subpoena served so the Court has jurisdiction over that person. Motions can be brought related to failures to cooperate in this process.


Many Courts require the parties to mediate, or seek to settle the matter. This is most useful after enough discovery has been done for the parties to assess their positions. The parties are free to mediate earlier or later in the litigation.

Dispositive Motions

Parties can file Motions that would allow the court to dispose of the matter, or limit the issues, before trial. Such motions include Motions for Summary Judgment. Because the law favors parties having their “day in court,” these motions are usually not granted unless a high standard is met.


Trial can occur a year or more after a case is initially filed and can last hours, days, weeks, or even more. A jury is the “trier of fact” and deals with fact questions at a trial; the judge is the trier of law. The party that loses the case can appeal.

Joe Richardson, Esq. is a native son of South-Central Los Angeles, and an attorney practicing tort, contract, and labor, and employment law in Southern California for more than 15 years. He also teaches and speaks on legal issues.


Join the conversation!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.