What is ‘litigation’?
A controversy before a court or a "lawsuit" is commonly referred to as “litigation”. If it is not settled by agreement between the parties it would eventually be heard and decided by a judge or jury in a court. Litigation is one way that people and companies resolve disputes arising out of an infinite variety of factual circumstances.
The term "litigation" is sometimes to distinguish lawsuits from “alternate dispute resolution” methods such as "arbitration" in which a private arbitrator would make the decision, or “mediation” which is a type of structured meeting with the parties and an independent third party who works to help them fashion an agreement among themselves.
Who gets involved in litigation?
It can be anyone, and increasingly is a common method for resolving disputes for almost everyone.
Disputes can arise between two individuals, such as a disagreement between you and the contractor who remodeled your home with inferior material, or two drivers who are involved in an auto accident, or a couple contemplating a divorce. Litigation to resolve the dispute sometimes involves only individuals. In the construction case the litigation would determine if the remodeling was done properly, how much it would cost to do the job right, what damages you suffered because of the improper construction, and who owes what to whom. In the divorce case, the court would decide who gets what, how much support or alimony must be paid, and decide issues of child custody and visitation, if the parties do not agree and settle on their own.
Litigation also may be used to resolve a dispute between an individual and a business, perhaps over a defective product, or a lease of property, or between two businesses who may be having a dispute over patent rights or the terms of a contract between them.
Litigation sometimes involves disputes between an individual or business with a Government agency. Perhaps the town is trying to "condemn" some real estate you own in order to build a new school, or the state is trying to deny you a license, or you’re having a dispute about the amount of taxes you owe the IRS.
Even two governmental bodies can get into litigation, as when New York and New Jersey each recently claimed Ellis Island.
Here is a handy checklist of basic questions to ask your lawyer:
- What is your experience in this field?
- Have you handled matters like mine?
- What are the possible outcomes of my case?
- What are my alternatives in resolving the matter?
- Approximately how long will it take to resolve?
- Do you recommend mediation or arbitration?
- What are your rates and how often will you bill me?
- How will you keep me informed of progress?
- What kind of approach will you take to resolve the matter - aggressive and unyielding, or will you be more inclined to reach a reasonable settlement?
- Who else in the office will be working on my case?