Civil litigation can be divided into several stages, including investigation, pleadings, discovery, pretrial proceedings, potential settlement or trial, and even appeal. Discovery is typically the longest and most labor-intensive stage of a case. Unlike the way theyâ€™re often portrayed on television, civil attorneys spend comparatively little time in the trial. Much of their time is devoted to the discovery stage â€” the exchange of information pertinent to the case through depositions, interrogatories, and subpoenas. The latter are demands for information or documents from third parties. Depositions and interrogatories involve questions posed under penalty of perjury to the parties in a lawsuit.
Deposition questions are posed orally under oath. Interrogatories are written questions. Not every lawsuit passes through each stage â€” in fact, most donâ€™t. The majority of lawsuits are settled by agreement of the parties and never reach the courtroom. Parties can settle during a trial, even after a jury has begun deliberating or has delivered a verdict. They can settle or â€śstipulateâ€ť to some aspects of the lawsuit, leaving others in the hands of the judge or jury.
When a case does go all the way to trial, the entire process, from filing documents with the court to initiate the case through resolution, can take anywhere from a few months to several years.