Business litigation law is a broad term covering the various legal processes at stake when a company is involved in a legal dispute. Like all forms of litigation, business litigation law focuses on trial and the courtroom. In practice, however, it is much broader than just the few days or weeks in court. When taken as a whole, business litigation law covers everything from the filing of a business-oriented complaint to discovery, motion filing, settlement negotiations, trial, and, ultimately, resolution. Business litigation law is typically practiced by business lawyers who are either retained as corporate counsel for a company, or who work in a law firm but specialize in business law disputes.
Business litigation law is usually more complex and time-consuming than other sorts of litigation. Litigation between individuals or private entities is usually more limited in scope, and the avenues for relief are more narrow. It is not always so for litigation between businesses. Most of the time, businesses are sued for more than just a simple injury or a one-time infraction. Business lawsuits often involve complex fact-patterns of patent infringement, tax evasion schemes, corporate fraud, and public deception over time, to name a few.
The start of any sort of litigation is the filing of a lawsuit. The filing usually takes the form of a complaint. In business litigation law, the compliant must specifically set out what it is the plaintiff asserts the defendant has done wrong, and exactly which laws have been broken. The specifics of judicial process for how that complaint is filed and served vary by jurisdiction. Typically, the complaint must be both filed with a court that has subject matter jurisdiction over the elements of the complaint, and must be personally served on the defendant’s agent or competent representative.
After the complaint has been filed, the defendant usually has an opportunity to answer. After that, the parties enter into a period known as “discovery.” Discovery in business litigation law is an opportunity for both sides to plum the depths of the others’ information and materials in order to build their case effectively. Lawyers frequently search e-mail records, tax documents, and internal communications between executives during discovery.
The next phase is typically motion practice. Lawyers for both sides will issue motions to compel or suppress certain information, or to stay certain proceedings, for instance. Motions are an important part of the litigation process, as they help to shape the contours of the trial and the breadth of evidence that can be presented.
Most of the time, parties in a business litigation dispute will attempt to settle their dispute out of court. Settlement is generally more cost-effective, and saves a lot of money in court and attorney’s fees. Settlement also avoids binding judgment which can damage a company’s reputation or image.
If settlement efforts fail, the parties must proceed to trial. During trial, each side presents its evidence and arguments. Trials in business litigation law can be before a judge, a panel of judges, or a jury, depending on the rules of the jurisdiction where the court sits. After each side has presented its case, the fact-finder or finders will issue a judgment, which typically includes damage awards. In some jurisdictions, each party is responsible for its own costs, but in others, the losing party is responsible for all costs and fees.