What are the differences between trial and appellate courts?

When you run into a disagreement that affects your business — be it a breach of contract, trade secret infringement, or other business tort issues — the first question you need to answer is this: Is it time to file a lawsuit? Or, if someone else has filed suit against you, is it worth it to combat those legal claims?

In order to answer these questions in a way that’s conducive to your company’s short- and long-term goals, it helps to first understand what a lawsuit may entail. Namely:

  • Are you (and your attorney) prepared for the possibility of a trial?
  • Are you prepared to appeal your case if you don’t get the verdict you were hoping for?

While no one can anticipate exactly how your case will unfold, it’s important that you and your attorney discuss these two possibilities in detail. As a business litigator who’s been resolving commercial disputes for nearly 45 years, David H. Schwartz is one of the few San Francisco attorneys with the experience and insight to utilize every aspect of the civil lawsuit process to your advantage.

The California Civil Lawsuit Process

The remainder of this article outlines California’s civil lawsuit process so that you can get a clearer picture of the directions your case could take. After reviewing this information, we encourage you to reach out and schedule a consultation with David.

From Filing Suit to Going to Trial

While courtroom dramas might lead the everyday viewer to believe lawsuits are exclusively resolved through trial, anyone who’s actually been involved in a lawsuit can tell you otherwise. In California, this is how legal disputes find their way through the court system:

1. The plaintiff files a lawsuit.

To kickstart their case, the person who feels they’ve been wronged (“the plaintiff”) must fill out paperwork and turn it into their local court. This paperwork informs the court of who the plaintiff is, who the plaintiff is suing (“the defendant”), and why the plaintiff is suing the defendant in the first place.

After reviewing the lawsuit information, the court opens a case and issues a case number.

2. The defendant responds to the accusation.

After being “served” the complaint made against them, the defendant can file a response in which they contest (disagree) with the claims made by the plaintiff. In California, the defendant usually has 30 days to respond.

3. The case enters the discovery phase.

Next, the attorneys representing each party take some time to “discover” all the facts from each party’s point of view. Often, this step allows the attorneys to propose solutions that don’t involve trial — thereby saving clients time and money.

4. Trial begins, if necessary.

In the event that the plaintiff and defendant can’t agree on a resolution outside the courtroom, the trial process begins. This is when the attorneys present evidence to the judge and/or jury.

5. The evidence is deliberated and the verdict is revealed.

After reviewing all the evidence, the judge (or, if it’s a jury trial, the jury) announces their final decision, bringing the case to a close.

Appealing a Verdict

While California courts and judges do their best to render fair and fitting verdicts, they don’t always get it right the first time around. When that happens, the party who is unhappy with the outcome of their case can file an appeal — that is, they can formally ask the court to reverse its original ruling.

As you can imagine, successfully appealing a verdict is not a simple task. According to the Judicial Council of California’s 2017 Court Statistics Report, only 11% of appealed civil cases were reversed in the fiscal year of 2016. However, you shouldn’t let that statistic discourage you — especially if you and your attorney planned ahead for the possibility of a post-judgment appeal.

When you work with the Law Offices of David H. Schwartz, we look at your case in its entirety, planning ahead for the possibility of appeals so that we can drastically increase your chance at a winning verdict. We invite you to learn about our approach to appeals then reach out to schedule a consultation.


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