If you or your company has been served with a summons and complaint, you generally have 30 days to file a responsive pleading. (In certain types of actions, or certain courts, that time is shortened so consult with an attorney to determine the due date for your responsive pleading.)
Your responsive pleading can be an answer with general denials, a form for which is available on court websites. However, it is advised that you seek counsel prior to filling an answer so that you do not inadvertently waive any affirmative defenses. Your responsive pleading can also be a demurrer or motion to dismiss, if you have grounds for challenging the lawsuit on its face (as opposed to challenging the lawsuit based on evidence). You can also challenge service, juridisciton or venue in your responsive pleading.
Typically, once a complaint is filed, a court will automatically set a date for a status conference. This usually occurs before you file your responsive pleading and you should be provided with notice of the hearing when you are served with the complaint.
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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