Calendar the date you are served with the summons and complaint
There are important time lines in lawsuits. As a defendant, the time line starts when you are served with the summons and complaint. There are different ways one may be served, but it is important to write it down on a calendar.
Calendar the date you must answer or respond
Failure to answer or respond in a timely manner may result in a default being taken against you; therefore, calendar the response date. The summons will indicate the time within which to answer or respond. In California state court general civil litigation, one has 30 days after service to answer or otherwise respond. Unlawful detainers has a much shorter time period - only 5 days. Be sure to also calendar reminders before the due date, so that you avoid missing the response date.
Don't discuss the case with anyone except a lawyer or your insurance company
Statements made by a party to a lawsuit may be deemed admissions and can be used against that person. Communications with a lawyer are privileged under the attorney-client privilege. If you are insured for the particular act or allegations of the complaint, you must cooperate with your insurance company. Cooperation with one's insurer is a obligation imposed by the insurance contract.
Contacting the plaintiff or plaintiff's counsel can be dangerous because in your dialogue you may inadvertently say something that might be adverse to your defense.
Promptly contact legal counsel and your insurance company
Prompt action is critical in lawsuits. Lawsuits are governed by statutes, case law, and local court rules. Secure competent legal counsel because if you represent yourself, you are expected to know and comply with the statutes, case law, and local rules. If you insured for the matter or some of the matters sued upon, make contact with your insurance company and document that contact.
Review the complaint and be prepared to meaningfully discuss the allegations with your lawyer
A party to a lawsuit should be involved and seek to understand the claims, facts, and his or her rights and liabilities. While aspects of a complaint contain technical legal phrases, it is, by statute, supposed to be written in ordinary and concise language. Accordingly, make an attempt to read and understand the allegations of the complaint and be prepared to discuss this with your lawyer.
Assemble relevant documents
Often lawsuits involve documents such as emails, letters, faxes, legal documents, and recordings. Gather together all documents that you think may be pertinent to the case and preserve them. Present copies to your lawyer and or insurance company.
Additional resources provided by the author
Court clerks are not allowed to give legal advice, so one must seek legal counsel. Each county has a local bar association. Contact your local bar association and request a referral to an experienced attorney. Most counties have law libraries with reference librarians who may point you in the right direction, but, as a general rule, the legal system is complicated and one should be represented by legal counsel. For those who do not have the funds to hire a private lawyer, there are non-profit organizations that offer legal assistance.