An Overview of the Civil Litigation Process in California

Trial Photo

Every profession has it’s own unique procedures and lexicon. If I went to a plumbers’ convention, I’m sure I wouldn’t know half of what they were talking about.

I have to remind myself of this periodically, because during a conversation with a prospective client I’ll use basic legal terms like “summons”, “complaint” and “answer”, assuming the person knows what I am talking about, only to realize as the conversation progresses that they are not familiar with even those terms.  I communicate like crazy with my clients,  following the method tell them what you are going to say, tell them, and then tell them what you said.  Indeed, I can’t imagine a more communicative lawyer.  Yet even well into a case, I occasionally find that a client has a fundamental misunderstanding of the process.

The following video is by a San Francisco attorney. He provides a very basic description of the litigation process from beginning to end.  The video is simple but very well done, and is a great resource if you are looking for a broad overview of the litigation process.  Incidentally, it you landed here because you have been served with a complaint, be sure to view How to Answer a Summons and Complaint.

The attorney has a very natural presence. If I had a personal injury action in San Francisco, I'd hire him.

But I will clarify one point he makes. He says that very few cases go all the way to trial. If you lump all cases together, that is a true statement, but the numbers are different depending on the nature of the action. A small percentage of personal injury actions go all the way to trial, but a much higher percentage of defamation cases, for example, will go to trial. It comes down to whether liability is at issue, and the amount of damages being sought.

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