The process begins when one party files a lawsuit against another (called a complaint). The defendant must then file some type of response, called an answer.

At this stage, your attorney may file a motion in your favor. This could include a request for summary judgment or a motion to dismiss the case.


The most common type of civil lawsuit is a plaintiff vs. defendant suit, but other types of cases can be filed as well, including lawsuits brought by government agencies and those involving animals. Regardless of the case’s type, all civil suits begin with filing a complaint. This is followed by a period of time during which both parties are required to file various documents with the court and the other party. This part of the process is known as the “pleadings” phase.

The rules of the specific court that is hearing your case will determine how the pleadings phase is conducted. Some of the most important steps in this stage are requests for information and discovery, which is the exchange of relevant data between the parties. During the discovery process, your attorney will likely conduct depositions, where witnesses are asked questions under oath. These can be intimidating, but an experienced lawyer will know how to prepare you and your witnesses for these interviews.

After completing the pleadings phase, both sides will prepare for trial. This can include preparing witnesses, drafting briefs, and submitting evidence to the judge or jury. Some cases will only be tried before a judge, while others require a jury of between six and 12 people. If a jury decides your case, the next step in the trial process is questioning potential jurors by the judge and attorneys for both the plaintiff and the defendant. This process is called “jury selection.”

The judge will ask each potential juror questions, such as their personal ideology and life experiences that could relate to the case, to see if they can be impartial. If a potential juror cannot be selected, the judge will dismiss him or her from the case.


When most people think of courtroom drama, they often picture a criminal defendant on trial for a crime. Civil litigation, however, happens when two parties have a legal disagreement that does not involve criminal accusations and that they want to be resolved by the courts. These cases can be anything from a dispute over money damages to an attempt to force another party to take action on a specific issue.

The first step in a civil lawsuit is the filing of what is known as a complaint. The plaintiff files this with the court and serves it on the defendant, who then has a chance to respond by describing how they believe they have been harmed and asking the court for “relief,” which can include monetary compensation (like a money award from the defendant) as well as non-monetary relief like an order to stop a certain behavior, such as a restraining order.

The plaintiff and defendant often agree to a settlement rather than go through a trial. This is a common practice for many types of disputes, and it allows the parties to avoid the time and expense involved in a trial.

If a settlement is not possible, the next step in most civil cases is a trial. During this phase, the judge or jury will consider the evidence presented in the case and make a decision. If either side disagrees with this decision, they may file an appeal with a higher court. An appeal involves arguing that the original lower court made some kind of error in law or procedure that warrants a reversal or remanding of the case for further proceedings. Both sides must submit evidence and witnesses to be questioned under oath during this process. This is a very intense part of the civil litigation process, and it requires the assistance of an experienced lawyer.


The basic steps in any civil lawsuit are the same, but each case will take a different course. A lawsuit starts when the person bringing the suit or plaintiff files a complaint with the court that has jurisdiction over the case. The person accused of wrongdoing, or the defendant, then must file an answer. Both sides then engage in discovery, where each party makes various requests to the other for documents and depositions.

During this process, parties may also file motions that ask the judge to take certain actions in the case. The judge will decide whether to grant or deny the motions based on what the law and case facts require.

Some motions that occur in civil cases include those for summary judgment, which allow the judge to dismiss parts of a plaintiff’s or defendant’s case and dispose of issues without trial. However, a judge must have sufficient evidence to make such a ruling, so the motions usually include a memorandum of points and authorities, affidavits, supporting exhibits, and declarations.

If the judge or jury is not satisfied with the outcome of a civil case, either party has the right to appeal the decision. This is done in a higher court, known as a court of appeals. This review looks at the facts of the case and the law and considers if there was a proper legal basis for the judge or jury’s decision.

Civil litigation is complex and can involve a lot of time, money, and effort. It is important to consult with an attorney early on to see if you have a good chance of winning and to plan the next steps.


Whether you’re on the winning or losing side of a civil lawsuit, you have the option to appeal if you don’t like the verdict. There are different steps in the appeals process, and it’s important to work with a lawyer to ensure your rights are protected.

The pleading stage begins with the plaintiff’s attorney filing a complaint with the court. This statement must identify the defendant parties, include factual allegations in support of the claim,

and detail the relief requested. The defendant party must file a response to the complaint within 20 days of receipt. In addition, the defendant can also choose to initiate a counterclaim and crossclaim during this stage.

During the discovery phase, both parties must exchange information, including documents and witness testimony. This includes depositions, a type of oral testimony given under oath and often conducted by civil litigation attorneys. Civil cases also require using affidavits, written statements signed under oath.

One of the most important aspects of a case is jury selection. This involves questioning potential jurors to ensure that they have a fair and impartial view of the case. This process can take considerable time and may involve excluding some potential jurors.

During the trial, both parties present their key evidence to the jury. The plaintiff’s attorney will introduce their interpretation of the facts, and the defendant’s attorney will offer any affirmative defenses to the claim. This is known as the case-in-chief and often takes several hours to present. Depending on the circumstances, a litigant who loses in the federal courts or at the state’s highest court can file a petition for a writ of certiorari with the Supreme Court to review the case.

Expert Witnesses

While most civil lawsuits never reach the trial phase – and many settle at other stages besides trial – those that do typically move through five distinct steps: pleadings, discovery, motions, trials, and appeals. Civil lawsuits can arise from a wide variety of harms and disputes between people or businesses, so your attorney must understand the full scope of your case from the beginning.

During the pleadings stage, each party, or party’s attorney, files a document that lays out their initial claims or defenses. The person who is bringing the lawsuit, or the plaintiff, will file a complaint, while the party being accused of wrongdoing, or the defendant, will file an answer.

Expert witnesses are often called to help support either party’s arguments during the trial. Experts can give two types of testimony: fact and opinion. Factual testimony is based on things the witness can see, hear, or otherwise perceive, while opinion testimony is based on their knowledge, education, experience, and best judgment.

Unlike attorneys, who are familiar with the legal system and know how to question witnesses effectively, many non-lawyer experts are not. As such, your attorney must employ advanced strategies to strengthen your case and bolster your expert witness’s ability to stand up to vigorous cross-examination.

During the plaintiff’s case-in-chief, the plaintiff’s attorney will use testimony and physical evidence to prove the defendant’s liability for the damages suffered by the plaintiff. Depending on the type of civil lawsuit, this could include forensics reports, photographs, medical records, and other documentation. The plaintiff’s attorney will also introduce expert witnesses to support the case, including those with economic, financial, and accounting expertise.