Understanding the Judicial Process: How It Works

Each year, courts across the United States handle millions of cases. Though most of these are criminal cases, a significant number are civil cases involving disputes between two or more parties. In either type of case, there is a process that the court follows as it moves through the legal system.

Settling disputes in court is not something anyone would want to do. But when you have no other option, you must go through this judicial process to protect your rights. So, what can you expect when you go to court? Here is a brief explanation of how the judicial process works in the United States.

Filing a Complaint

The first step in any legal proceeding is filing a complaint. The complaint is a document that starts the case and lays out the specific issues.

The plaintiff, also known as the petitioner or complainant, is the party who files the complaint and starts the case. This party has a problem and wants the court to provide a remedy, such as awarding damages or ordering the defendant to do something. The court clerk will then assess the case and decide if no arbitration is possible and whether the issue needs a trial. Afterward, the court will assign the case to a judge.

During this step, the plaintiff should work with a lawyer to ensure the complaint is filed correctly, as this document sets the stage for the entire case. In doing so, a favorable outcome is more likely.

Serving Process

After filing the complaint, the plaintiff must notify the defendant that a lawsuit has been filed against them. This notification comes in the form of a summons. It’s a document that tells the defendant they have been sued and have a certain amount of time to respond to the complaint.

It’s also crucial for the plaintiff to hire the best process server agency to handle this step. This way, you can ensure the summons is delivered correctly and that there’s evidence to show the defendant was notified of the lawsuit.

Usually, the process server will attempt to hand-deliver the summons and complaint to the defendant. Other methods may be used if this isn’t possible, such as sending the documents by certified mail or posting them in a public place.

The time the defendant has to respond to the summons and complaint depends on the state where the case is being tried and the method used to serve the process. In most cases, however, the defendant has between 20 and 30 days to respond.

Nonetheless, it’s an important step in the judicial process, as it ensures the defendant is aware of the lawsuit and the allegations against them.

Answer or Motion

After being served with the summons and complaint, the defendant must file an answer or a motion. The answer is a document in which the defendant responds to the allegations made by the plaintiff.

In this document, they can also raise any defenses against the claim. For instance, they may say that the statute of limitations has expired or that they’re not responsible for the damages because someone else is.

The answer must be filed within the time set by the state where the case is being tried. If the defendant doesn’t file an answer, they may be subject to a default judgment. So, it’s important to respond within the given timeframe. This way, the case can move forward, and the defendant can present their defenses.


A trial procedure is the most crucial step in the judicial process. It’s when both sides present their evidence and arguments to a judge or jury, who will then decide the case.

Before trial, both sides will go through the discovery process. This part is when they can request information and documents from the other party to help them build their case. After discovery, each side can present its evidence and arguments.

During this phase, both parties must have a well-developed trial strategy. This way, they can present their strongest case to the judge or jury and improve their chances of winning. The trial phase can be lengthy, depending on the case’s complexity. Sometimes, it may take weeks or even months to reach a verdict.

female lawyers speaking to a judge at courtroom

Judgment and Appeals

After hearing both sides of the argument, the judge or jury will reach a verdict. The defendant may be ordered to pay damages if the judgment favors the plaintiff. If the decision favors the defendant, the case will get dismissed, and the plaintiff will not receive compensation.

In some cases, either party may be unhappy with the verdict and decide to file an appeal. An appeal is a request to a higher court to review the case and make a new decision. The appeals process can be lengthy, so it’s essential to consult with a lawyer before taking this step.

The judicial process can be long and complex, but it’s essential to understand how it works. Doing so lets you prepare for each step and know what to expect. This guide provides an overview of the judicial process and how it works. It’s essential to remember that each case is unique, so the steps may vary depending on the specific situation. Nonetheless, this guide can give you a general idea of what to expect.

Contact Us

Scroll to Top