Before a case is scheduled for trial, a number of things must happen. Information about most of these -- for example, whether and when a settlement conference with the other side will take place, when papers must be filed, and how to place a case on the court's trial calendar -- are available from the court clerk. Unfortunately, how to accomplish other pre-trial tasks, including case investigation (often called "discovery"), is left largely up to you and the other parties to the lawsuit.
Case investigation takes two forms: informal investigation and formal discovery.
Informal investigation includes all information-gathering that you can do on your own, working with cooperative people or organizations both before and after a lawsuit is filed. Informal investigation encompasses such activities as:
- conducting informal interviews
- collecting documents
- taking photographs (of damaged property, accident sites, or other pertinent objects or locales), and
- finding out about an adversary's insurance coverage.
Formal discovery is a legal process that kicks in after a case has been filed. Formal discovery encompasses a number of investigatory tools, including:
- interrogatories -- written questions directed to the adversary that the adversary must answer in writing and under oath.
- Depositions -- oral in-person questions that the adversary or another person must answer under oath.
- Request for Production of Documents -- a request for a particular document or class of documents likely to be relevant to your case.
- Requests for Admissions -- a written statement you serve on your opponent in an effort to get your adversary to agree that certain facts are true or documents are genuine.