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What happens during the discovery phase of a civil trial?

Are you about to become involved in a civil trial? Perhaps you have reached your last options for obtaining payment from a delinquent customer. Maybe you are in the middle of a dispute with a partner, business associate or competitor who has violated your trust. You may be seeking compensation from someone whose actions resulted in your injuries or other damages.

No matter the reason for your dispute, taking the matter to court is one way to seek a resolution once and for all. However, it is a complex process with many steps that can be complicated to understand. One of the first phases of a civil trial is discovery.

Gathering the facts

Very little of what transpires during a trial comes as a surprise. When an attorney asks a witness a question, the attorney generally already knows the answer. That is because of the discovery phase of the trial. Discovery is when both sides of the case disclose to each other the facts and information they have about the circumstances in question. Discovery can occur in a variety of ways, including the following:

  • You will have to produce any documentation, including contracts, emails, memos and computer files, and your opponent's attorney will provide similar documentation to you.
  • You and others involved in the case may complete interrogatories, which are forms with questions you must answer as completely and truthfully as possible.
  • The attorneys may want to narrow the scope of the dispute by asking you and others to complete a request for admission, which helps to identify the facts that both sides admit they agree upon.

Of course, the most well-known type of discovery is the deposition. During a deposition, your opponent's attorney will question you to obtain as much information as possible about the case. The interview occurs while you are under oath, and a court reporter is usually present to transcribe your answer. You must never guess or withhold the truth during a deposition, but following your attorney's advice for dealing with challenging questions is advisable. Your attorney will also depose people from the other side.

Discovery has many benefits. It allows each side to see the strength of the other side's argument and how best to proceed to build a strong case. It also helps you to decide, with the help of your attorney, whether it is better to try to reach a settlement with your opponent than to fight it out in court when the other side may have the stronger evidence.

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