Litigation stages are the specific pieces of the process in taking legal action. Certain stages may differ depending on the complexity of the legal issue and the point at which the issue is resolved.

What Are the Stages of Litigation?

In the beginning stages of litigation, both parties involved in the situation requiring legal action should hire an experienced attorney who will represent them well and work for their best interest. Ideally, you'll find an attorney with experience in the area of the issue you are facing. One of the best ways you can help ensure a good result is by securing a good lawyer.

Once you find a good attorney, you'll meet for the initial client interview. The lawyer will ask questions and try to fully understand the situation you are facing. After a thorough interview, the lawyer will advise you on how to proceed and lay out all of your options. If you are looking to pursue legal action against another and the lawyer believes that you have a substantial case, you can hire them and begin the litigation process.

The main stages of litigation are:

  • Investigation
  • Pleadings
  • Discovery
  • Pre-trial
  • Trial
  • Settlement
  • Appeal


Any cases in civil litigation start with the investigation stage. A private investigator might become involved. Your lawyer will handle this part of the process. They'll decide what to look into and how to obtain necessary proof. The main goal of this part of the process is to find supporting evidence for your side of the argument. This might include things like forensic evidence, medical records, and informal witness interviews.


Both parties involved in a lawsuit must file pleadings. Pleadings are initial documents that explain the basic arguments of either side of the legal issue. This includes two parts, the complaint and the answer.

In the complaint, the plaintiff will file an official complaint with court which will be delivered to the defendant. This will describe the wrongdoings of the defendant and what, specifically, the plaintiff is holding them responsible for. When the complaint is delivered to the defendant, this is called serving legal process or "getting served."

Once the complaint is filed, the defendant has the opportunity to officially reply. They may ask for further clarification on the issue or for corrections to incorrect allegations or legal understandings. The defendant might even request that the court throw out the suit altogether, if they feel strongly that it is unwarranted.


The discovery process is the point in the litigation process where each of the parties involved attempt to "discover" as much as they can about the case. This involved legal research, reviewing documents, interviewing witnesses, and more. Discovery is usually the longest part of the case and usually carries all the way up to the time of the trial. The main elements of discovery are:

  • Depositions
  • Obtaining witness (eye witnesses, experts, and character witnesses)
  • Motions

Pre Trial

The pre-trial stage consists of meetings and negotiations between the attorneys for either side of the case. Many times, settlements will actually be reached during this pre-trial period.


Once the trial begins, either side argues their case before the court. This might just include just a judge (a bench trial), or a jury may also be involved (a jury trial). Before the trial, both the plaintiff and defendant provide briefs to the judge. These documents lay out the arguments they will make and the evidence that will be used.

During the trial, the following steps will take place:

  • Voir dire (when choosing a jury)
  • Opening statements
  • Arguments including questioning witnesses and evidence introductions
  • Closing arguments
  • Verdict (either by judge or jury)


The settlement is the final outcome of a case. In civil cases, this is usually a sum of money that is paid to the winning party by the losing party. Once a judge comes to a final judgment, the settlement is owed to the prevailing party. There can be some issues obtaining this settlement, however, during which the winning party can pursue collection or execution of what is owed to them.


If either side of the case is displeased with the result of the trial, they have the right to appeal. Either party usually has 14 days after the decision date to file an appeal. The decision will go to a higher court and the arguments are present with a record of the evidence to the appellate court. In such case, the appellate court is usually just looking for any legal errors that may change the outcome.

If you need help with litigation stages, you can post your legal need on UpCounsel's marketplace. UpCounsel accepts only the top 5 percent of lawyers to its site. Lawyers on UpCounsel come from law schools such as Harvard Law and Yale Law and average 14 years of legal experience, including work with or on behalf of companies like Google, Menlo Ventures, and Airbnb.