Introduction to Pre-Trial Practice

Introduction to Pre-Trial Practice

Terms:


Collateral estoppel
Collateral estoppel is a type of defense that prevents a party from re-litigating a particular issue that was already heard and ruled upon by a court in a previous lawsuit.

Complaint
The complaint is the document written by the plaintiff’s attorney that commences a lawsuit. The complaint serves many purposes including the identification of the parties involved in the lawsuit, the plaintiff’s reason for filing a lawsuit, and the type of relief that is sought.

Discovery
The process during which parties to a lawsuit investigate and gain information. Discovery is governed by Rules 26 through 37 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. It often entails the collection and request for documents, the exchange of information between parties, and other activities related to the acquisition of information that is relevant to the lawsuit.

Party
A party is a person or entity (corporation, grass roots organization, deceased’s estate) involved in a legal dispute. Plaintiffs and defendants are parties to a lawsuit.

Plaintiff
The plaintiff is the party bringing a civil lawsuit in court.

Defendant
The defendant is the party sued in a civil lawsuit. The defendant is the party who allegedly committed some kind of wrong against the plaintiff.

Motion
A motion is a written or oral request for a presiding court to make a ruling or order on a particular legal issue.

Res judicata
Res judicata is a type of defense that prevents a party from re-litigating a particular claim that was already heard and rule upon by a court in a previous lawsuit.

Service of process
Service of process is the formal method employed by the parties in a lawsuit to deliver papers (such as the complaint, answer, and motion papers) on the other parties and the court.

Summons
A summons is a written notice, which usually is accompanied with the complaint, notifying the defendant and the court that the complaint has been served on all relevant parties and the date of the first court appearance for the lawsuit.


This chapter focuses on "pre-trial practice," the process during a lawsuit that occurs before trial. One way to think of pre-trial practice is to think of what happens from the day that the lawsuit is filed to the point just before the attorneys enter the courtroom.

Pre-trial practice is divided into several stages. The first stage is the commencement of a lawsuit. Two essential components of beginning a lawsuit are (1) the filing of the summons and complaint, and (2) the proper service of process of these documents on the appropriate opposing parties. The first subchapter will explore these two areas in greater depth.

The next stage of pre-trial practice is discovery. In brief, discovery is the method by which the parties gather information prior to trial. This information may take many different forms, such as photographs, maps, documents, or videos. The second subchapter will discuss discovery in depth, particularly focusing on depositions, interrogatories, and other investigation techniques. In addition to the exploration of the discovery process, the subchapter will also explore the requirements of Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which delineates attorneys' obligations and sanctions.

Following discovery, the next stage of pre-trial practice is "motions practice." Motions practice refers to the parties’ use of motions, which are written or oral requests for the court to issue an order or ruling on a particular legal issue. The third subchapter will explore types of motions that may be requested before trial, such as motions to dismiss and motions for summary judgment. The use of these motions may expedite litigation and lead to a faster resolution of a lawsuit without the expense of going to trial.

The fourth subchapter explores other litigation tools that attorneys may utilize to help expedite the litigation and settlement of claims. Joinder, interpleader, and impleader are procedural devices that help bring other parties into an action that may have a stake in a lawsuit or combine similar legal claims between certain parties to resolve them.

The final subchapter will discuss two legal doctrines known as res judicata and collateral estoppel. Res judicata is applied when the court recognizes that parties have already litigated the same claims in a previous lawsuit. Therefore, the court precludes the re-litigation of the lawsuit. Collateral estoppel is applied when the same issues now before the court have already been litigated in a previous lawsuit. These topics will be explored in the fifth subchapter.