How long will my lawsuit last? Predicting the length of litigation is difficult. Each case is unique. A host of factors outside your control could expedite or delay the process. Some cases settle quickly while others last years awaiting trial and appeals. For example, in my law practice I have handled matters decided by trials within a week of the initial disputes. On the other hand, I have tried cases so old they were filed by other lawyers before I even began law school over ten years ago! However, most lawsuits fall somewhere between those stark extremes. The type of litigation, criminal or civil, plays into its length. As a general rule, criminal cases move faster than civil. If you have been charged with a crime, you can usually expect to go to trial within a year. Moreover, misdemeanors mature quicker than felonies. The constitution guarantees criminal defendants a right to a speedy trial. Civil actions, on the other hand, often take many years to resolve. Usually your attorney will spend months attempting to settle your case before filing a lawsuit. Once litigation is filed, lawyers will conduct pre-trial discovery, an investigatory process that could take years to complete. It begins with formal written requests for information and evidence, followed by depositions where attorneys question witnesses under oath before court reporters. Another common pre-trial activity is mediation, a meeting between the parties and a neutral mediator designed to facilitate a final settlement. Once trial is set in civil matters, it can last anywhere from a few hours to a few months depending on the complexity of the case and the size of the court's docket. Of course, in both criminal and civil matters, trial is not necessarily the end of litigation. Parties have the right to appeal the trial verdict. Appeals can take even longer than trial court proceedings. Considering the delays inherent to trial and appellate litigation, estimating your case length is tough. As general rules, you can expect criminal matters to resolve quicker than civil actions and simple disputes to move faster than complex cases. Considering the uncertainty of trials and appeals alongside the fact that settlements always produce prompter results, as a party to litigation you should ask yourself whether "a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush."
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