Trials are when you go in front of a judge or jury to present your facts and evidence to persuade them that you are in the right and that the justice system should award you your desired relief. This is an extremely complicated process and you should be represented by an attorney if at all possible. Here, learn what the most basic steps are in preparing for a trial.
Contested or uncontested?
The trial phase of the civil litigation process will be very different if your case is uncontested, meaning that both sides agree on the case's final outcome. If your case is uncontested, the trial phase should be very short and might be better thought of as a hearing.
During the final hearing of an uncontested case, you will present your signed order to the judge, answer any questions that the judge may have about your agreement, and then file the order with the court clerk once the judge has signed it.
If you and the other side of your case disagree about what the outcome of the case should be, then your case is contested. If your case is contested, you will need to spend a lot of time preparing for trial.
First, look for a lawyer.
The court system is complicated. While you generally have the right to represent yourself in civil court, the process will go more smoothly if you are represented by a lawyer who knows how to navigate the system.
To find a lawyer, use TexasLawHelp's Legal Help Directory. Or contact a Lawyer Referral Service. Such services can help connect you with a lawyer they have screened in advance. You pay $20 for a 30-minute consultation. After that consultation, you and the lawyer can discuss their regular fees and maybe negotiate them.
Watch How Do I Find a Lawyer?, a video by TexasCourtHelp.
Consider limited-scope representation.
If you must represent yourself in a contested case, consider hiring a private attorney to provide you with limited-scope representation, also known as "unbundled legal services." A lawyer who offers limited-scope representation may be able to coach you through the issues and strategies that might come up in the trial based on the facts of your case.
Not every attorney offers limited-scope representation. However, attorneys who provide limited-scope representation may help you prepare for court at a price you can afford. Limited scope representation is less expensive than hiring an attorney to go to court for you because you will complete most of the work yourself. However, talking to an experienced attorney about the presentation, procedures, and objections you are likely to see and use in court could determine whether you win or lose your case.
Learn court procedure.
Even if you hire a lawyer on a limited-scope basis to help you prepare your case, study court procedures to understand what is happening during your trial. Whether or not you are a lawyer, you will be expected to follow the same rules that lawyers must follow in court. These rules are called the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure.
Once you are in trial, you will not have the chance to research what is happening. Instead, you should prepare for different possible scenarios and outcomes in advance so that you are ready to participate even if things go differently than you expected.
Watch TexasCourtHelp.org - Representing Yourself In Court. Also, watch other trials and hearings at Texas Court Live Streams.
Learn about evidence and making objections.
In addition to the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure, study the Texas Rules of Evidence. These rules tell how to introduce and share important information about your case with the court.
As you study, make sure that you understand these legal concepts:
- hearsay, and
Understanding these concepts will help you learn objections that can be used to keep inadmissible or inappropriate information out of court. Read Gathering and Presenting Evidence.
Generally, If you disagree with the judge about what evidence should be admitted in court, you must object during the trial. If you don't, you may not be able to appeal the case later. To ensure you can appeal if necessary, your trial preparations must include learning how to preserve mistakes for appeal.
In court, you will need to clearly explain how the law applies to the facts of your case. You will also need to know your case's legal concepts, available evidence, procedures, and rules. This already is a lot of information to remember!
In court, you must be ready to apply and present all of this information while the other side interrupts you, tells the judge that your story is not believable, you do not understand the law, and then tells their version of the story that you might know or believe is untrue. To stay calm even in this stressful atmosphere, you will need to repeatedly practice what you want to say.
Court How-Tos (Civil Procedure)
This article explains the basics of civil lawsuits in Texas.
This article explains the work that happens before a trial in a Texas civil case.
Motions and requests are how you formally ask a judge to take an action during a case.
This article explains how lawsuits can be resolved without a trial.
This article tells you what evidence is and provides information on the evidence rules that are followed in Texas courts.
This article offers information about the rules governing discovery in Texas.
The judge may have ruled in the case, but the matter might not be over.
This article describes the appeals guide for self-represented people in Texas.
This article contains a link to a video that provides some background on the civil litigation system in Texas.