Prepare for Trial

  1. Get ready early! And keep trying to settle your case. Settling can save you a lot of time and money.

  2. Review all the papers that have been filed in the case, both by you and the other party. Make a summary of these papers.

  3. Review all the documents and evidence you obtained through discovery and make a summary of what you think will help you present your case or question the other side’s evidence.

  4. Arrange for witness testimony:
    • Expert witnesses: You do not need an expert witness for every case. But if you need one for your case, be ready to tell the other side the names, addresses, and phone numbers of any experts who will be testifying for your side and their areas of expertise. You will also have to give the other side a statement about the expert’s testimony or what you think the expert will say in court. NOTE: Expert witnesses generally charge for their time, and it can get very expensive. It is not unusual for expert witnesses to charge several thousand dollars for each day of testimony.
    • Other witnesses: You have to tell your witnesses about the trial date and make sure they are ready to come to court. Witnesses that you need to prove your side of the case should always be served with a subpoena to appear so that their employers will allow them to leave work to come to court. Also you can get the trial continued (postponed) if a witness fails to appear in response to a subpoena.

  5. Prepare your exhibits: At trial, you can show exhibits to support or refute what a witness is saying. These can include deposition testimony, photos, videos, etc. There are rules about making sure your evidence is admissible, so make sure you know the rules of evidence when preparing your exhibits.

  6. Prepare your jury instructions: If you have a jury trial, you have to submit jury instructions. These are the formal instructions that the judge will read to the jury to guide them in their deliberations. Jury instructions are found in books in the law library, and it is up to you to find instructions that are appropriate for your kind of case and support your side of the story. You can also find jury instructions in plain language at the California Courts Website. Both sides give the judge their instructions before trial. The judge chooses what instructions to read to the jury.

If you are not a lawyer, get help from an experienced trial lawyer. If the other party has a lawyer and you do not, it will be very difficult for you to try your case in front of a jury. Click for help finding a lawyer.

Setting up the trial date

Some courts mail you a notice of the trial date, and others assign you a trial date at the case management conference.  The court will schedule the trial date based on information you provide to the court in forms you must file, or at the case management conference. At least 15 days before the case management conference you will need to file and serve on all parties in the case a Case Management Statement (Form CM-110). You can file a joint statement with the other party or parties in the case if you choose. (See rule 3.725 of the California Rules of Court.)

If the court schedules your trial based on information you provide in your Case Management Statement, it is important to include in that statement the dates when you will not be available for trial, how long you estimate the trial will last, and whether you want a jury trial or a court trial. If the trial date is set at the case management conference, both sides have to tell the judge whether they want a jury trial or a court trial. A jury trial means that a jury of your peers will decide the case. A court trial, also called a “bench trial,” means that the judge alone makes the decision on your case. If you ask for a jury trial, you must pay the jury fees. See California Code of Civil Procedure section 631 to 636 to find out more about jury fees.

Deciding between a jury trial or court trial
First, you do not always have the right to a jury trial in all civil cases. But if you do have the option, there are a lot of things to think about when you decide what kind of trial to ask for.

Some types of disputes cannot be decided by a jury. These include claims for injunctive relief or declaratory relief, or questions of law instead of questions of fact. If you have a type of case that a jury can decide, you still may want to have a judge decide the case instead of a jury. Jury trials can be good if you have a case about things that people can identify with, and if you have a lawyer to present the case. Jurors can get bored or frustrated with cases that are technical or complicated, or when they see a party unprepared. Most judges are very good at understanding complicated problems. They can deal with those cases easily.

Also think about who is likely to be on your jury and how they will feel about your case. Lawyers who practice in a specific geographical area have experience with juries and the attitudes many jurors bring to court. This experience is so important when deciding whether to request a jury trial.

Before you decide what kind of trial to ask for, think about your case and what you will ask the judge or jury to solve. Talk to a lawyer about what kind of trial is best for your situation. Click for help finding a lawyer.

If you ask for a jury trial

Once you ask for a jury trial at a trial setting conference or case management conference, you have to pay the jury fees. This means that you have to deposit money to cover the jury fees for 1 day. This deposit has to CLEAR in the bank account at least 25 days before the trial date. If you do not deposit the money in time, you may give up your right to a jury trial. In some circumstances you can ask that jury fees be waived by filing an application for waiver of additional fees and costs. You must be prepared to show the court both that you cannot afford the jury fees AND that a jury trial is necessary for your rights to be protected.

For more information on jury trials and jury fees, see California Code of Civil Procedure sections 631 to 636.

Mandatory settlement conference

When you get your trial date, you will probably also get a date for a mandatory settlement conference. Often, the mandatory settlement conference is a few days to 2 weeks before your trial.

A temporary judge usually conducts the settlement conference. Temporary judges (called “pro tems,” short for “pro tempore”) are lawyers with a lot of experience. They volunteer to be the judges for the settlement conference.

At the mandatory settlement conference, the judge or temporary judge meets with the people in the case (or their lawyers). The parties will present the facts of the case to the temporary judge, and the judge will try to find a solution that everyone agrees with in order to settle the case. If you can reach a resolution at the conference, there is no trial. The settlement conference judge is a different person than the one who will serve as the trial judge.

At least 5 court days (do not count weekends or court holidays) before your mandatory settlement conference, everyone in the case has to file a settlement conference statement describing how your settlement talks are going. This statement has to be served on every party in the case. Read rule 3.1380 of the California Rules of Court to see what must be included in the settlement conference statement.