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The Waiting is Almost the Hardest Part

By: Jeremy Kennedy, Civil Litigation Attorney

Whenever someone is looking for representation on a lawsuit, whether it’s because they are considering suing someone, or they have been sued, inevitably they get to the question “So how long will this all take?” People who have never been involved in litigation seem to think a lawsuit will be done in a few weeks, maybe a few months at most. The reality can be very different, and understanding that, especially in the Covid world we live in, can help litigants manage the stress of expectations and handle the potentially lengthy periods of inactivity that come in every lawsuit.

In Michigan, the State Court Administrative Office has guidelines for how long cases take to resolve. Before Covid, on average, the SCAO expected 90-95% of cases brought in district court to be resolved within 1 year of filing. In district court, it’s possible, that cases will be resolved in 6-9 months.  For cases brought in circuit court, however, the cases are generally more complex, and only 70% are expected to be resolved within 1 year. 

Once clients know the inherent time constraints in the legal process, they can manage their expectations about the length of the legal process. For example, in the simplest circuit court case, a lawsuit will be filed and served, and the opposing party has roughly a month to respond. Roughly a month after the Answer is filed, the court will hold a scheduling conference, so the parties can determine how the case will proceed. The discovery process comes next, and will last a minimum of three months after the scheduling conference. 

At this point, if everything has gone smoothly, it will have been five months since your lawsuit was filed. Most courts will set a deadline to have any motions to resolve the case filed and heard no later than 2 months after discovery concludes. If those motions are denied, there will be a case evaluation held a month or two after the dispositive motion deadline. If the case remains unresolved, six to eight weeks later the court will hold a settlement conference and determine a trial date, usually a month or so later. Add all the time up, and you’re looking at a year from filing to trial, if everything proceeds quickly and smoothly. 

Delay at any stage of litigation can push resolution of the case back by weeks or months. It’s important that clients know this. Many litigants come into a lawsuit ready to burn the world down to make their opponent pay. As costs add up and time stretches on, moods shift, emotions take less of a leading role, and resolve can fade, sometimes to the point where clients can decide to give up on their case. Knowing up front that a legal dispute will last many months, if not longer, can prepare the client for the long road ahead, and help smooth any trouble that could arise from the long journey to get their dispute resolved. 

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