Phase Nine: Trial
Statistically, the vast majority of cases do not end up in trial. Even at a firm like ours, where attorneys love to try cases, the number of cases we actually try is small. This is because the parties are eventually able to clearly evaluate potential risks and outcome of trial, and they settle the case. However, it is our firm’s experience that cases do not settle on good terms if the other side does not believe you are ready, willing, and able to try the case.
Also included in this phase is arbitration, for cases where the parties have agreed to have the matter decided by an arbitrator rather than a judge or jury. In either case, trial or arbitration, this phases is where the case is finally decided on the merits.
The case is either tried to a judge or jury, with most cases having a right to jury trial if desired. The process includes calling witnesses, presenting exhibits, making legal arguments to the judge or jury, and in a jury trial, selecting a jury. Ultimately, the judge or jury decides the outcome of the case and a judgment is entered for the winning side.
The judge sets a trial date several months prior to the event, and all parties work toward that date. In several Southern California courthouses, like LA and Orange Counties, trial occurs within a year or so of the date the matter is filed. In others, like Riverside County, a significant backlog keeps litigates out of court for many years.
The attorneys must be prepared to try the case on the date set by the court. However, in reality, cases rarely go to trial on the date first set for trial. The case will often trail for several days, weeks, or sometimes months. Cases may also be reassigned to a different judge than the one who handled the case to that point because he or she is not available. Nonetheless, it would be reckless for any attorney not to be prepared to try the case on the first day set for trial, because when the judge asks, you want your attorney to state with confidence that he or she is ready for trial.