When your Minnesota business finds itself facing the possibility of litigation, it’s natural to feel overwhelmed and anxious about what comes next. What comes next? And what happens after that? How long will it take? What do you need to do? What shouldn’t you do? How much time will it take from your focus on your business?
An understanding of how litigation works and what you should expect can help cut down on — but, frankly, not eliminate — that stress. Here are some of the most common questions and answers about business litigation in Minneapolis and St. Paul so that you can gain insight into what lies ahead.
What Does the Business Litigation Process Look Like?
The answer to this question depends a bit on where the lawsuit is started. In state court in Minnesota, a lawsuit is started when one party serves a summons and complaint on the other; the case doesn’t have to be filed with the court for a year, leaving the parties time to see if they can work through the claims on their own. In federal court and most state courts, the case starts when the plaintiff files the complaint with the court and then has it served on the defendant.
Whichever way the case starts, once served the defendant has to serve a response within a set time (usually 21 days in Minnesota and federal courts). They might answer the complaint — meaning they admit or deny each individual allegation — or they might ask the court to dismiss the complaint for some technical or legal reason. In most cases, the defendant files an answer, which moves the parties on to the next phase: Discovery.
In discovery, the parties request and exchange information. There are written requests for information (called interrogatories) and requests for the production of documents and electronically stored information. In many cases, depositions are taken. In a deposition, lawyers ask witnesses questions about the case, and all of it is taken down word-for-word by a court reporter.
All that information exchanged in discovery serves a couple of related purposes. It gives the parties and the lawyers a more complete view of the case, the claims, and the defenses, preparing them for trial. It also helps them think about settlement. The parties can discuss settlement anytime during the case, but if they don’t settle on their own then at some point the court will expect them to try mediation. (Technically, what’s required is some form of alternative dispute resolution, but mediation is by far the most common choice). Settlement discussions and mediation give the parties the chance to control their fate, rather than leaving the decision in the hands of a judge or jury.
Finally, if the parties can’t settle it comes time for a decision. That may happen on a motion for summary judgment (if the parties agree on what happened, and need the judge to just decide how the law applies to those undisputed facts) or in a trial (when the parties have contradictory evidence of the key facts).
How Long Does Business Litigation Take?
How long all this takes depends on several factors, but the most important is probably whether or when the parties are able to reach a settlement agreement. Settlement usually ends the case, and the parties control when that happens; sometimes it’s within weeks of the day the complaint gets served, sometimes it’s in the middle of trial.
Without a settlement, cases usually take 12 to 18 months to get to trial. Much of that time is taken up by discovery, some by drafting, filing and arguing motions, and some by waiting for rulings by the court. In those rare cases that go to trial, you can expect trial to last anywhere from a couple of days to several weeks (even months in extreme cases, but those are really rare).
Do I Need to Work With a Business Attorney?
In Minnesota (and most other states), a corporation or limited liability company is required to have a lawyer in court; they cannot represent themselves. Sole proprietors are permitted to represent themselves, and some do in the hope of keeping costs down. However, working with a trusted business law attorney is the best way to ensure your best interests remain protected during all phases of litigation. You already have so much on your plate as a business owner—let your attorney step in to advocate for the future of your business while you focus on your other important obligations.
Explore your options for resolving an upcoming business dispute by calling the dedicated attorneys at Rubric Legal LLC today at (612) 465-0074.