As Seen On TV: Myths and Facts About Litigation

April 10, 2024

TV shows about lawyers are exciting, fast-paced and sexy. Not so much in real life. While entertaining, attorney TV shows do not reflect the reality of how litigation is conducted and can have a negative effect on what people expect when they deal with actual, real-world legal matters. To set the record straight, here are some myths and facts about real-world litigation.

You probably won’t have your day in court.

Most cases never see the inside of a courtroom. In fact, over 90% of cases settle before trial. There is a very good reason for this. Trials are unpredictable. You never know what a judge or a jury is going to do at the end of the day, which means a trial is a risk proposition. Even if you have the facts and the law on your side, there is no guarantee of victory. Going to trial is also very expensive. You and your lawyers will need to spend many days and nights preparing. To reduce the risk of uncertainty and the cost of a trial, parties more often than not choose to settle their dispute. It may not always seem fair or just but settling a case is often the smart thing to do.

If you do go to trial, it probably won’t be speedy.

TV shows portray cases going to court right away, or at least within the confines of an hour-long show. In reality, it can be years before a case goes to trial, and in some cases, it can be a decade. While the goal of the legal system is to bring cases to trial within a year or so, that is often not possible. First, there are many steps before you can get to trial: a complaint must be filed; the complaint is then served on the defendant; the parties then engage in the discovery process, which may involve depositions; there may also be various motions, with briefing and court appearance; and parties often engage in mediation before resorting to trial. The bigger or more complex a case, the longer these steps take. Cases are also often delayed for a variety of reasons. So, if you are involved in litigation, know that this is a time-consuming process.

There are usually no dramatic surprises at trial.

As mentioned, before going to trial the parties engage in discovery. Parties may ask questions and collect documents from their opponents well before trial. You can even ask an opponent to give you all the evidence they intend to show at trial beforehand. Additionally, courts require the exchange of witness lists and exhibits before you set foot in court. The purpose of all this is to give the parties a fair chance to look at the evidence and avoid surprises at trial. Thus, typically, what is presented at trial is nothing new to the parties. In fact, a judge might not permit the introduction of evidence that was not previously disclosed. Though, there are some instances where evidence is produced late, or a witness or document may be introduced at the last minute to rebut testimony, but that is the exception, not the rule.

Judges and juries are human; they make mistakes.

If you have the facts and law on your side, chances are you are going to win your case. But having the facts and law on your side is not a guarantee of victory. Sometimes judges and juries misperceive evidence or the law. Sometimes judges and juries are swayed by other factors, like sympathy toward an injured defendant. Sometimes judges and juries just don’t like you. Unfortunately, it’s human nature and feelings that sometimes lead to the wrong outcome. That is why trials are risky and that is why so many people choose to settle a case even when they know they are right.

KJK attorneys are experienced litigators. We will walk you through the steps of your case, so you know what really to expect. We will fight for you and guide you to the best result possible in litigation.