What to Do After You File Your Lawsuit: Making a Discovery Plan

In discovery, you gather information, documents, and other evidence relevant to your case.

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

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

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.

These discovery tools are explained in detail in Represent Yourself in Court, by Paul Bergman and Sara Berman (Nolo), and Nolo's Deposition Handbook, by Paul Bergman and Albert Moore.

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