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The Civil Lawsuit Process Explained

The road from the initial filing of a lawsuit until judgement is a long one and varies from case to case. The intention of this blog is to provide a general overview of the civil litigation process in Maryland, to provide more transparency between client & attorney. It is NOT intended to be legal advice. If you have any questions or concerns about your case, please consult with your attorney.

Once the decision to bring an issue to court is made, this is a very generalized process of what to expect:

Litigation process path image

1. Plaintiff files a complaint or petition to the court

The Plaintiff is the person who initiates the case by making a formal complaint to start the process. The complaint or petition frames the issues of the case. They have to state the legal grounds their action is based in, provide evidence, and prove their case.

2. The Defendant is served

The Court will issue a summons that must be served on the Defendant along with the complaint filed by the Plaintiff. A court summons must be served either by certified mail, the sheriff's department, a special process server, or an adult who is not a party to the case.

3. The Defendant responds

The Defendant must answer the complaint or petition filed and must do so within 30 days of the initial complaint (60 days if the Defendant does not reside in the state of Maryland). Before filing an answer, certain Motions can be filed including motions to dismiss, transfer venue, etc. The Defendant can also file counterclaims against the Plaintiff.

4. Initial Motions are filed

The parties file motions. Motions are requests made to the court for the judge to make a legal ruling. Most common motions are Motions for Discovery, Dismiss, or Summary Judgement.

5. Discovery is exchanged

The parties collect and exchange information from each other in the form of interrogatories and document production. This helps them gather evidence to prove their claims in court. For more information about the discovery process, check out our blog: Discovery 101.

6. Court Conferences

This stage is mainly communication and negotiations between each side. Depending on the case, there could be several court conferences, they are often used to encourage the parties to settle. The court might even order the parties to attend mediation before pursuing trial. At these conferences the parties appear in court to consider settlement options or to decide on trial dates.

7. Trial

Both parties appear in court. They provide their opening statements, call witnesses, cross-examine each other's witnesses, and present evidence from discovery. The Plaintiff presents their case first and must prove their claims. The Defendant presents their defending case, questions the Plaintiff's evidence, and can ask for the case to be dismissed. Both parties present their closing arguments, and then wait for the judgement.

8. Judgement (Verdict)

The judge or jury decides the case. Once a judgement is announced, the parties have a timeframe of 30 days from the decision date to appeal the court's decision. Either party can ask the appellate court to reconsider decisions based only on issues that occurred during the original case.

9. Judgement is Enforced

If neither party appeals the judgement, the judgement is enforced.


Again, this is not always the exact order that a civil case may follow, but it is a very generalized idea of the litigation process in Maryland. This blog is NOT legal advice, if you have questions about the litigation process please consult with an attorney. For more information on navigating the Maryland Court System, visit the The People's Law Library of Maryland.


American Bar Association. (2021, November 28). How Courts Work. How Courts Work. Retrieved May 9, 2023, from

Bieber, C. (2023, April 24). What Is Litigation? Understanding The Litigation Process – Forbes Advisor. Forbes. Retrieved May 9, 2023, from

The Maryland People's Law Library. (2023). Homepage | The Maryland People's Law Library. Retrieved May 9, 2023, from

UpCounsel. (2023). Litigation Stages: Everything You Need to Know. UpCounsel. Retrieved May 9, 2023, from

Disclaimer: The contents of this website should not be construed as legal advice on any specific fact or circumstance. Its content was prepared by Williams, McClernan, & Stack LLC (a Maryland law firm organized as a limited liability company with its principal office at 22715 Washington Street, Suite 201, Leonardtown, MD 20650 phone number (240) 309-4179). It was designed for general information purposes only. Your receipt of such information does not create an attorney-client relationship with Williams, McClernan, & Stack LLC or any of its attorneys. You should not act or rely on any of the information contained herein without seeking professional legal advice. Williams, McClernan, & Stack LLC’s lawyers are licensed in Maryland. While we welcome you to contact us by phone or email, contacting us does not create an attorney/client relationship. Please do not send us any confidential information until we have established an attorney/client relationship.

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