Civil Case Procedures


     The procedures in civil cases are very technical and complicated, making it extremely difficult in most cases for a party to effectively represent themselves without legal counsel.

Docket Control Order

     In Harris County, after the suit is filed, the civil court automatically issues a docket control order, setting a trial date. The docket control order also lists procedures that the parties must complete by certain deadlines before trial. If the parties do not comply with the order, the court may impose many types of sanctions, including an order that one party pay the other party's attorney's fees or an order awarding judgment for the other party.

Mediation

     One of the required procedures listed in the docket control order is mediation. Mediation is is a meeting with both parties and a neutral third person, a mediator. The purpose of mediation is for the parties to reach agreement on as many issues as possible before the final trial. All communications at mediation are confidential, and cannot be used at trial. Most mediators charge at least $300 for half a day of mediation. In certain cases involving minimal property, mediation may be available without without charge.

Discovery

     The docket control order also sets deadlines for the parties to conduct discovery. Discovery procedures include written interrogatories, requests for documents and depositions. These are useful methods for discovering evidence that should be presented at hearings and the final trial. Either party can issue discovery requests, and the other party must respond to the discovery requests.

Summary Judgment

     Another procedure typically used in civil cases is a motion for summary judgment. It is a motion asking the court to award judgment without having a full trial with live witnesses. It is a trial on paper. The responding party must respond properly or else have a judgment entered against them. All of the required pre-trial procedures in a civil case can significantly increase the amount of attorney's fees incurred by both sides.