This series describes the eight stages of litigation clients can expect in civil or probate litigation. Although the procedures and timetables vary somewhat among Contra Costa, Alameda, San Francisco, Santa Clara, and other Northern California counties, litigation generally follows a well-defined course.
1. Investigation and Research
5. Expert Witness Depositions
6. Trial Preparation
8. Appeal and post-trial motions
Although we describe eight distinct stages, many of these stages overlap, or occur throughout the process; and while these stages generally occur in this order, every litigation case is unique, so some of these stages may occur earlier or later (or more frequently, or not at all) in a given case.
For example, discovery – the process of “discovering” the evidence each side intends to introduce at trial – can begin a few weeks after a complaint or petition is filed and usually continues until a few weeks before trial. Settlement discussions sometimes begin before a case begins, sometimes never occur, and sometimes begin “on the courthouse steps,” resulting in a settlement just before trial begins. (At Barr & Young Attorneys we usually try to settle cases before they begin with a phone call to opposing counsel.) Research also continues throughout most cases as new substantive and procedural issues arise.
Litigation is an expensive and often painful experience, and should not be undertaken without consideration of the various stages of the process. We hope this series will educate potential litigants, both plaintiffs and defendants, about what to expect.