What does disclosure mean in law? That's an important question for any individual or business that's involved in a lawsuit. The legal term disclosure refers to the portion of the litigation process where each party in the suit is required to disclose any documents that may be considered relevant to the case going to court. This stage normally occurs after each party has made their initial statement in their case.

This stage was created to make sure all the documents in evidence are presented early in the case. During the first stage of the disclosure process, both parties will make a reasonable search and review of documents relevant to the case. The second stage of the process involves providing the list of documents to the other party involved in the litigation. Some documents may not have to be disclosed because the information contained in them is privileged. The final stage of disclosure is the inspection of the actual documents by the other party.

The disclosure process is vital, as it can have a heavy impact on the proceeding outcomes. A party's credibility can be damaged during a trial when a party fails to disclose all documents properly or if documents have been destroyed or overlooked. Additionally, sanctions can be imposed by the court on a party that does not provide full compliance during the disclosure process.

A lawyer has a responsibility to ensure proper disclosure was given. Disclosure is so vital to both parties in a lawsuit because it can allow each of them to see what strengths there are in the case. After seeing this evidence, they may determine that settling could be in their best interest.

Initial disclosure law is a federal law that requires both parties to provide each other with information when a discovery request is made. Discovery includes items necessary to a court case such as:

  • The names, addresses, and phone numbers of everyone who may have information about the case.
  • A list and copy of all relevant data, documents, and tangible items a party controls or possess.
  • A computation of damages.
  • Insurance agreements that are relevant to the case.

When referring to patent law, the initial disclosure includes the party providing an explanation of how their invention works through such ways as:

  • Drawings
  • Descriptions
  • Specifications
  • Reference to prior claims

The term full disclosure is often used in numerous legal situations, such as in prenuptial agreements and transactions involving real estate. This will allow both parties to seek the balance they need. When a contract or purchase is made, both parties are required to disclose the full truth before it is signed so both parties fully know the consequences of their action.

An example of full disclosure would be when the court requires both parties signing a prenuptial agreement to provide a list of assets. This usually includes an attachment of the schedule of assets that are included in the prenuptial agreement.

The Disclosure Obligation

There are a number of types of court orders that can occur during the disclosure period of the case. You may find the court serving an:

  • Order dispensing with disclosure
  • Order to disclose documents which a party will be reliant on
  • Order for disclosure of a "train of enquiry" basis
  • Order for standard disclosure

The order in which disclosure occurs will have a lot to do with how complex the case is, as well as how large it is. What needs to be disclosed will be determined by the issues that are raised in the case. When an order of disclosure is given, it can only extend to the documents the party is in control of. This includes items in a party's physical position or that the party has a right to possess. While it can include documents an employee or agent of the company may possess, it does not always extend to company subsidiaries, ex-employees, or professional agents.


The term documents not only refers to paper originals; it also refers to documentation that can be electronically stored. Examples of nonoriginal documents include emails and information contained in databases. It also includes information on servers, backups, and sound files.

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