Unfortunately, the longer you're in business, the more likely it is that you will one day have to sue some one to collect money owed to you. While litigation is rarely the optimal choice, sometimes it is the only choice.
Make no mistake, litigation is not a pleasant process. It generally takes 1-3 years during which time you have lawyers prying into your business and your personal life, you must invest a significant amount of time working with your lawyer to provide information, and you will spend substantial amounts of money on legal fees and costs. Litigation should be a choice of last resort. If you are unable to resolve a dispute on your own, you would be well-served to retain an attorney to negotiate on your behalf. While some lawyers charge exorbitant contingency fees for pre-litigaiton negotiation, this office provides pre-litigation negotiation at a rate much lower than that of an ordinary contingency matter and we have succesfully resolved dozens of cases.
But if negotiations fail and you must litigate, below is a cursory summary of what to expect in litigation.
First, you must file a complaint and a summons. If you're filing in Los Angeles County, you must also file a civil case cover sheet and a civil case addendum. Once it has been filed, you must arrange to have it served on the defendant(s). You cannot serve the complaint yourself.
Typically, once a complaint is filed, a court will automatically set a date for a status conference. At that status conference, depending on the complexity of the case, the judge will frequently suggest, or even order, that the parties attend mediation. The judge will also inquire as to whether all of the defendants have been served and whether they have "appeared" in the case so that he or she can set a trial date. Some judges are sticklers about keeping trial dates but most frequently grant continuances of the original trial date as the case proceeds, as long as it appears that the parties are moving forward.
Currently, with all of the courtroom closures, it typically takes around 2 years from the date that the complaint is filed for the case to go to trial. Cases involving smaller amounts of money (less than $25,000) are filed in a court of limited jurisdiction and will typically get resolved more quickly.
It is imperitive that you do not miss deadlines for filing pleadings. However, if you do miss a deadline and have good cause, the judge will usually grant you extensions where necessary or even grant your relief after you have missed a deadline. This is never ideal and you should plan on cooperating with opposing counsel and meeting all court and litigation deadlines.
During your case you will probably be deposed. You will also need to respond to written discovery requests, which are documents sent to you by the other side to gather information relevant to the case. Further, you will need to serve discovery on on the other side for the same purpose.
Litigation is exceedingly complicated and involves significant amount of strategy, writing, legal analysis and oral argument. Certain judges will request that you obtain legal counsel even though you are not required to do so. Other judges are more lenient with persons representing themselves in pro per and will assist you and provide advice to you as the case moves forward. However, if you can afford an attorney, it is always adviseable to hire one.
*This article is for informational purposes only. It is not guaranteed to be a complete or thorough analysis of the issues discussed herein. It in no way shall serve to create an attorney-client relationship. The reader is advised to check for changes to current law and to consult with a qualified attorney on any legal issue.
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