You’ve Been Served, Now What? The Main Stages of Litigation - Hackstaff, Snow, Atkinson & Griess, LLC

You’ve Been Served, Now What? The Main Stages of Litigation

Litigation main stages Most people want to avoid becoming embroiled in litigation at all costs, but there are times when it’s unavoidable. Whether you’ve been served or are thinking of filing a complaint, it’s important to understand what the main stages of litigation are, what the process entails, and how to navigate it.

The term “litigation” simply refers to the formal process of resolving legal disputes between two parties. This can take place in state or federal courts. The United States legal system allows anyone to bring a complaint to the public court system and seek remediation.

The plaintiff who initiates the case via a formal legal complaint shoulders the legal burden of providing evidence to then prove their case against the defendant. Once the complaint is filed and the defendant is served with notice of the complaint, litigation generally follows a standard process. 

Complaints & Responses

Plaintiffs initiate the process by filing a formal complaint detailing the legal grounds upon which their action is based. The defendant is then served with the paperwork and is required to file an answer to the complaint, such as a counterclaim against the plaintiff. 

For example, a business tenant may file a complaint against a landlord for failing to maintain certain building conditions which have resulted in damage to the business owner’s retail property, or affected their ability to conduct business. The landlord has a right to respond to that claim.


After the complaint and answer are filed, the discovery period allows both parties to exchange evidence (any relevant, specific evidence, such as compelling a defendant to provide financial or tax records, or any documentation that they feel is being withheld.) The discovery phase also includes the witness and expert depositions.

Pre-Trial Conferences, Mediation & Settlement

Before a case goes to trial, there are typically several conferences where both parties cover everything from scheduling issues to the possibility of a settlement. This is also when both parties consider mediation as an alternative to fully pursuing a trial, and consider various settlement options. For example, in a personal injury case, an insurer will often offer the plaintiff a lump sum to avoid dragging out the more expensive litigation process at trial.


Of course, if mediation and settlement are not viable options, the case proceeds to trial. Both parties may call witnesses, present evidence, and cross-examine each other’s witnesses. The burden of proof is placed on the plaintiff to convince a judge or jury that their claims are valid and adhere to the law. Defendants can question witnesses, introduce evidence, and ask for the case to be dismissed if there is not enough evidence to support the plaintiff’s claims.

After a judge or jury decides the case, either party can appeal the decision. If there are no appeals, the judgment is final and the successful party is awarded any damages. In the case of divorce litigation, the court also decides child custody, alimony payments, child support, and division of property.

Don’t go it alone – seek professional advice.

Litigation is complex and costly in terms of time and money. Whether you’ve been served or are looking to file a complaint, it’s important to seek the counsel of a knowledgeable attorney to guide you through the process and look out for your best interests.

The litigation team at Hackstaff, Snow, Atkinson & Griess handle every litigation case as if it’s going to trial. Our attorneys are thorough and diligent in preparing your case for a successful outcome. Contact us today for a free consultation.