The meaning of litigation in law refers to the actions between two opposing parties working in the interest of enforcing or defending a legal right. In most cases, the parties settle litigation by working out an agreement, but they may also go to court and have the jury or judge determine the final resolution.

A lawsuit is not the same thing as litigation. Litigation does not just include action taken during a lawsuit, but also the activities before and after a lawsuit that work to enforce a legal right. In other words, litigation involves bringing forth and pursuing a lawsuit, not just the lawsuit itself. Both plaintiffs (the parties initiating the lawsuit) and defendants may be referred to as litigants.

Pre-Lawsuit Litigation

Before filing a lawsuit, certain types of pre-lawsuit litigation are usually initiated by the plaintiff. Typically, this involves making demands that the party that caused the alleged injury (the defendant) take action to resolve the issue. If the defendant does not resolve the issue and the plaintiff has decided to defend their legal rights, litigation has begun. Typically, this involves the plaintiff hiring an attorney to represent them.

Attorneys usually participate in any number of pre-lawsuit litigation activities. These can include a variety of different things, from making formal written demands to the defendant, demanding compensation from the defendant, or filing an eviction notice with a local court.


The discovery period involves a formal examination of all facts pertaining to the lawsuit, which mostly entails the exchange of information and objective evidence between the two parties. Attorneys may exchange formal requests, including interrogatories (written questions), demands relating to evidence and documents, and requests for admission (requests that the other party admit to specific facts). This period may also involve depositions, which occur when attorneys request information from the parties and occasionally from third party witnesses.


Although 90 percent of litigation cases aren't taken to trial, it still occurs often. In a trial, each party presents its case before the jury. The plaintiff presents their case first, and then the defendant is allowed to defend their case against the allegations. After each party makes a claim, the other party has the option to respond to or defend the previous claim. Once both parties feel they've adequately demonstrated their cases, they rest their cases.

What Is the Process of Litigation?

Not all cases go to trial. In fact, most litigation cases involve initial activity by the attorneys or lawyers, and then a long period (months or years) of exchanging legal demands, threats, and the like until the parties begin negotiating a settlement. Settlement negotiations are based on the type of complaint and probable outcome for each party. Only if a settlement cannot be reached does a case go to trial. After a trial, there may be a long appeal process as well.

Litigation may also include pre-lawsuit negotiations, facilitations, appeals, and arbitrations. Litigation may turn these disputes into resolutions through the public court system. Litigation as governed by the federal courts includes a number of federal rules. These are in addition to the rules of local courts and the standing issues from judges.

Primary Procedures in a Civil Case

  1. Investigation is the first step. Without any possible claim that injury has occurred, litigation has little to offer.
  2. By filing a complaint with the clerk of the court, the plaintiff initiates legal action.
  3. The defendant's personal jurisdiction is obtained.
  4. The opposing parties meet and discuss with each other to define problems, consider settlement, and prepare for discovery and disclosure.
  5. The court orders an early pretrial conference or scheduling order.
  6. The defendant files motions.
  7. The defendant files an answer.
  8. Each party discloses relative documents; the discovery period progresses.
  9. Additional motions may be filed.
  10. The final pre-trial conference is held by the court.
  11. The court conducts trial.
  12. The judgment is rendered, signed, and filed by the court.
  13. Post-trial proceedings may occur.
  14. An appeal may be made. The court may hold judgment, depending on the nature of the situation.
  15. The court considers the appeal's relative arguments.
  16. The court renders a judgment based on the appeal.
  17. Additional proceedings may occur.
  18. The courts enforce judgment.

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