How Courts Work

Steps in a Trial


A lawsuit begins when the person bringing the suit files a complaint. This first step begins what is known as the pleadings stage of the suit. Pleadings are certain formal documents filed with the court that state the parties' basic positions. Common pre-trial pleadings include:

  • Complaint (or petition or bill). Probably the most important pleading in a civil case, since by setting out the plaintiff's version of the facts and specifying the damages, it frames the issues of the case. It includes various counts - that is, distinct statements of the plaintiff’s cause of action - highlighting the factual and legal basis of the suit.
  • Answer. This statement by the defendant usually explains why the plaintiff should not prevail. It may also offer additional facts, or plead an excuse.
  • Reply. Any party in the case may have to file a reply, which is an answer to new allegations raised in pleadings.
  • Counterclaim. The defendant may file a counterclaim, which asserts that the plaintiff has injured the defendant in some way, and should pay damages. ("You're suing me? Well then, I'm suing you.") It may be filed separately or as part of the answer. If a counterclaim is filed, the plaintiff must be given the opportunity to respond by filing a reply.

>>Diagram of How a Case Moves Through the Courts
>>Civil and Criminal Cases
>>Settling Cases
>>Pre-trial Procedures in Civil Cases
>>Jurisdiction and Venue
>>Pre-Trial Conferences
>>Pre-trial Procedures in Criminal Cases
>>Bringing the Charge
>>Arrest Procedures
>>Pre-Trial Court Appearances in Criminal Cases
>>Plea Bargaining
>>Civil and Criminal Trials
>>Officers of the Court
>>The Jury Pool
>>Selecting the Jury
>>Opening Statements
>>Direct Examination
>>Motion for Directed Verdict/Dismissal
>>Presentation of Evidence by the Defense
>>Final Motions
>>Closing Arguments
>>Instructions to the Jury
>>Jury Deliberations
>>Motions after Verdict

How Courts Work Home | Courts and Legal Procedure | *Steps in a Trial*
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