What does the Litigation Process Look Like?

June 5, 2023
Lily Parker

Litigation is the process after one entity files a complaint with the court against another entity. From the beginning of negotiations to the settlement or judgment, it can be a lengthy process sometimes spanning years. Hearing this can be daunting if you are facing the possibility of litigation. There are many reasons why litigation takes as long as it does and ways time can be saved.  

How does litigation start?

Litigation begins when a complaint is served against a person or an entity, notifying them that legal action is being taken against them. The complaint contains causes of action that detail the alleged grievances against the defendants. After a complaint is filed, the defendant (the person or entity against which the complaint was brought) has a certain amount of time to respond with what is called an answer. Both complaints and answers must be filed with the court.  

Court filings all have deadlines. These deadlines are different for every case and each step in the litigation process. For example, after a complaint is filed the defendant typically has 21 days to file an answer before the case moves on to the next steps in litigation.  

Where is most of the time spent?

A significant amount of time in the litigation process is spent in a step call “Discovery”. Discovery is a period in which both sides of the legal action disclose and request documents and information from each other. In legal dramas, this is usually the part where hundreds of boxes get delivered to a law office, and then attorneys and paralegals must sort through them looking for the one piece of paper that wins the whole case. In real life, most of Discovery is done digitally. Discovery can take anywhere from 4 months to a year. Discovery is also when depositions happen. Depositions are witnesses’ out-of-court statements given under oath. Discovery can also include petitions for extension. Extensions are usually given a month at a time, and while there are no limits on how many extensions can be requested, the requesting party must provide good reasons for why they are requesting an extension.

After Discovery, some cases go to trial.  Court trials are the subject of most legal TV, but in reality, very few cases actually make it into the courtroom. Most cases end in settlement agreements that arise from mediation. If a case does go to trial, then there are pre-trial conferences that take place to ensure both sides are ready for trial, after which trial begins. After the trial, waiting on a ruling can also add significant time to the litigation process.  Following a ruling, post-trial motions can be filed, such as an appeal of the ruling given.  

How to shorten the litigation process

Settling is one of the best ways to end the litigation process. Settling is when both parties come together and create an agreement that suits both sides. It is a compromise between the two disagreeing parties to avoid going to trial. Settling often saves both parties a lot of money that would have been spent on attorney’s fees and other legal fees.  


Overall, the litigation process can take anywhere from six months to several years. The length of litigation depends on its complexity and the amount of money at play in the case. Litigation is drawn out when extensions are requested during Discovery, or when cases go to trial. After trial, waiting on a ruling and appealing can also add time to the litigation process. Cases that are settled tend to end a lot faster than cases that go to trial, and this is one of the main reasons why settling is so common.  

How Sumsion Business Law can help

Sumsion Business Law has experienced attorneys who have expert knowledge in the process of litigation. Download an in-depth pamphlet on the litigation process for free at this link or set up an appointment to consult with an attorney at Sumsion Business Law.  

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