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Civil Litigation 101: What to expect and how to prepare for a civil lawsuit

by | Dec 14, 2021 | Business Law

Litigation cannot always be avoided. When it is something you have to tackle, it is important to be knowledgeable about the work that needs to be done. The process of litigation may be long. The final decision may be made years from the date of the original dispute. It is not only important to understand the process of civil litigation, but also how to prepare for litigation.

The civil litigation process

The general litigation process proceeds through four basic steps: pleadings, discovery, trial, and appeal. The plaintiff (the person or company filing the lawsuit) asserts one or more claims against the defendant (the person or company who the lawsuit is filed against). Throughout the litigation process, the parties can choose to settle the dispute to avoid going to trial. They may decide to go through a less involved and more time efficient dispute resolution, like mediation or arbitration. However, if a resolution cannot be made before trial, the trial takes place in a courtroom. Learn more about the litigation process.

The civil litigation process typically involves four steps.


Pleadings is the first step to starting the litigation process. This often includes a summons and complaint. These are important steps to start litigation because they provide the parties involved with the notice and allegations that will be discussed.


A summons notifies a party about a lawsuit. It is the first notice given to a defendant that informs them that they are being sued. It is important that the defendant receives the summons by an adult that is not a party to the lawsuit.


The litigation process starts with the plaintiff filing a Complaint. A Complaint is a written document explaining the claim(s) being made and the damage(s) being sought. The claim should include the allegations of what the defendant did or failed to do that caused harm or financial damage to the plaintiff.

The Complaint is followed by an Answer by the defendant. The defendant is given a certain period of time to respond to the Complaint. The Answer should respond to each allegation made in the Complaint. The defendant is permitted to make counter allegations against the plaintiff as well.


The discovery is a pre-trial phase that allows each party to investigate facts of the case by collecting evidence and records, interrogating witnesses, and requesting documents and other items from the other party. The discovery phase is typically the longest part of any civil case because both parties must have adequate time to collect evidence and build their cases.


A trial involves presenting your case to the court through witnesses and documents. You likely have seen this depicted in movies and TV shows, which makes this the most familiar part of the litigation process to those not often involved in civil suits. Generally speaking, the judge and/or jury reviews the evidence presented by the parties and makes a decision as to the liability of the parties. If a party is found to be liable, then damages must be assessed. Damages may include a payment of money, the return of property, and/or injunctive relief.

It is important that each party plead their case in a clear and precise manner. By hiring an experienced attorney, you are in a much better position to plead your case.


A party that is dissatisfied with the result of the trial may file an appeal if there is a reason to do so. A higher court reviews the trial proceedings and determines whether an error was made. The appellate court will either affirm the verdict or may reverse the verdict or order a new trial.

How can you best prepare for a civil litigation trial?

It is important that you prepare for your trial to the best of your ability. If you do not prepare enough, it could be detrimental to the outcome of that trial.

It is important to know how to prepare for civil litigation.

Document and Preserve Evidence

Evidence is one of the most important factors in every case. Without evidence, there may not be any basis for a lawsuit to continue. By documenting evidence and interrogating witnesses early, there is a higher likelihood of getting the most accurate picture of what occurred. Evidence that you may wish to collect could be written communications, like emails or contracts, and other documentation that may assist you in proving your claim.

Consult your attorney

Throughout the civil litigation process, it is important to keep the lines of communication open with your attorney. Your attorney can assist you by directing the evidence you will need, looking over that evidence, and helping you build your case. By being completely transparent with your attorney, they can better assist in building your case and preparing you for all the outcomes that may occur.

Avoid talking to the other side

Verbal or written communication can be used as evidence in litigation. It is important to avoid talking to the other side in the lawsuit to avoid other potential conflicts that may occur. If contact must be made with the other party, it is always best that the contact is made through a lawyer that understands the legalities and circumstances of the case.

Hire experienced attorneys to act as your litigators

Litigation can be a drawn out and complicated process, so it is important to surround yourself with experts to help you reach the outcome you want. Experienced attorneys can help prepare you for civil litigation. Contact our litigators to see how they can help you at 262-252-9122.