Joseph:Today we’re going to be discussing the litigation process. And our focus is two-fold, first to educate you on the process itself and second, give you helpful tips that will minimize your cost during the litigation process.
What’s the first step in litigation?
David: Joseph, prior to filing the lawsuit, we’ll conduct a pre-investigation. That’s where we’ll go out and we’ll interview potential parties and witnesses. We’ll gather relevant documents and we’ll explore potential claims and defenses for our clients.
Joseph: Once you’ve completed that pre-suit investigation, what’s the next step?
David: The next step, Joseph, is actually the lawsuit. In Texas, we call that a petition. On the other side, if a lawsuit has already been filed against our clients, we’ll file what’s known as an “answer”.
Joseph: Once you got either the answer or the petition on file, what’s going to be the next step?
David: The next step is the fact find view stage. We call that the discovery stage here in Texas and that’s where we’ll produce documents that are relevant to our claims and defences to the other side. And the other side will do the exact same thing. Again, the purpose of discovery is to get all the evidence that we intend to rely on in support of our claims or defences, get that open so that the case can be decided on the merits.
Joseph: After we’ve conducted what’s called “written discovery”, exchange documents and writings, the parties will have the opportunity to take what we call depositions. Now, a deposition is a chance to interview a witness under oath in front of court reporter. Testimonies solicited at a deposition is just as good as testimony presented in a trial, in front of a judge or a jury.
David: So, Joseph, the discovery stage has been completed. What can our clients expect prior to trial?
Joseph: Once you’ve completed written discovery and deposition, each party has the chance to file what’s called a dispositive motion or a motion for summary judgement. That’s a chance for the parties to apply the facts they’ve gathered to the law and ask the judge to make a ruling in their favour. This can be partial or a full summary judgement motion. If granted, that will dispose of the entire case.
David: And then, I would imagine that the next step will be trials. Is that correct?
Joseph: Exactly. This is what people confuse with the litigation process as a whole. Trials are a chance, as you see on TV, you go before a judge if it’s a bench trial or a judge and a jury if it’s a jury trial. Each side presents its evidence, makes it arguments to the judge and ultimately, the judge or the jury will make fact findings that will end the matter.
We talked about the process, we understand the process, what are some helpful tips or hints that people that are worried about having been sued or looking to file a suit can use to minimize cost?
David: Joseph, there’s a couple of suggestions, first and foremost, we always advice our clients to be actively engaged in the process. The client that is actively engaged can absolutely minimize their cost.
Another couple practical steps that they can take is prior to the lawsuit actually being filed, we always recommend that our clients gather important documents. Any documents or evidence that we believe are going to be relevant to the case, gather those documents up. Number two, put together a list of potential witnesses and parties for the suite. And then, after the lawsuit has been filed and during discovery, we always advice our clients to speak with individuals and employees at their companies and make sure that they preserve documents and evidence that are going to be used in the case.
Remember, a party that does not preserve documents and rather destroys evidence can be sanctioned by a court. That can involve anything from having to pay the other side’s attorney’s fees all the way to having your pleadings struck by the court. So, it’s a very serious matter.
Joseph: David, if your pleadings are struck, that would mean you essentially lose your lawsuit. Is that correct?
David: Absolutely. So, we’ve talked a little bit about the litigation process. We’ve also touched on some tips. What really can our clients expect throughout the litigation process?
Joseph: There are several things, David. Litigation is expensive. It’s time consuming. It’s constantly changing on a case-by-case basis. And so, as you mentioned, clients need to be actively involved in their case because strategies at the beginning of the trial change at the end over the course of a few days. Strategies at the beginning of a lawsuit change as discovery is revealed.
Here at VLF, your problem is our business. Every day we shepherd our clients through the litigation process from filing to discovery to trial. Please visit our website at www.vethanlaw.com if you have any additional questions and see how we at VLF can help you.