Litigation is the process of taking a case to court and, unfortunately, is practically unavoidable when running a business. The process is usually connected to civil lawsuits, in which one party sues another, but also includes criminal cases, in which laws are broken.
Of course, attorneys are usually necessary for litigation, on both sides. (Some individuals or small businesses may choose to go into a lawsuit without an attorney – called “pro se” – but this should only be done with a great amount of caution.) Bringing a lawsuit to court begins with the plaintiff filing a complaint. Usually, a summons is also filed, giving the defendant notice of the lawsuit and providing them with a deadline to respond. A date is then usually set for the beginning of the lawsuit and, until that date, both parties work to gather information. This process, called discovery, includes taking depositions (statements) and records. The burden of proof is usually on the plaintiff to prove that the case is valid. Both parties will file motions with the court, some requesting information and some procedural. It can be several months until the actual court date is reached. When it is time to go to trial, a judge or jury will hear the case and render a decision. If either party has good reason to question the verdict, they can appeal. This process will then go up through higher courts.
The court that hears a lawsuit depends on what type of lawsuit it is and the venue (place) in which the violation occurred. Special courts include small claims court, bankruptcy court, and tax court. Other types of lawsuits depend on the jurisdiction where the violation or complaint began. This usually is related to where the defendant lives, which means that the case will have to be filed and litigated depending on where the defendant lives and not the plaintiff.
The most common alternative to litigation is arbitration, which is a similar process, but is private rather than one that goes through the court system. In arbitration, an arbitrator hears both sides and makes a decision. This decision, unlike one made in litigation, cannot be appealed.