One of the most important things I do as a Litigation attorney is explain to my clients what has happened, and is likely to happen, in their lawsuit. Unfortunately, it’s all too easy to do that using abstract legal jargon as though everyone uses these terms as often as I do. So, rather than leaving you searching Google to find out what your lawyer is talking about, let’s start by going through some common legal terms in Pennsylvania lawsuits:

Who is Involved?

  • Plaintiff – The party or parties who starts a lawsuit against a
  • Defendant – The party or parties being sued by a Plaintiff. Even if both parties have claims against each other, the Plaintiff is the one who files first regardless of the size of their respective claims.
  • Litigation –The process of taking part in a lawsuit. “Litigators” are lawyers who practice Litigation.
  • MDJ – Short for Magisterial District Judge. A MDJ presides over “small claims” court in Pennsylvania for disputes worth less than $12,000 or disputes about issues like landlord/tenant claims.
  • Court of Common Pleas – The Pennsylvania court level where elected judges preside over claims. It is the step above and MDJ and can hear almost any type of claim.

What is Being Claimed?

  • Complaint – The document a Plaintiff files that usually starts a lawsuit. Its numbered paragraphs lay out the facts of the case, legal theories supporting their position, and what they want the Court to give them.
  • Answer – The document a Defendant files in response to a Complaint. It responds to each of the numbered paragraphs in a Complaint either by admitting that what the Plaintiff argues is true or denying it and explaining why it’s denied.
  • Reply – This document is how a Plaintiff responds to any new claims made by a Defendant in an Answer.
  • Default Judgment – If a Plaintiff or Defendant doesn’t respond to a Complaint or Answer in time, the other party can ask the Court to win automatically. The other party has given up by not defending themselves. (NOTE: if you get a “Notice of Default” warning you that a default may be entered, you need to seek legal counsel at once).
  • Motion – A formal request for the Court to do something. It is for tasks more complex and less administrative than those of a Praecipe. Among the most common are requests for the Court to rule in one party’s favor (either dismissing a claim or awarding a Judgment).
  • Praecipe – Pennsylvania’s mini-motion. It is a request for the Court to do something more administrative. For example, notifying the Court you have hired a new lawyer to represent you.
  • Brief – A writing submitted to the court by a lawyer, usually in connection with a Motion, that argues their client’s legal theory. It’s the lawyer version of an essay or paper.

Continue Reading Explaining PA Lawsuits Using Plain Language (Part I) – Key Legal Terms

Two of the most common complaints I hear as a litigation attorney are “why is it so expensive” and “why does it take so long.” Part of the answer to both questions are the procedural rules for discovery which often end up being both a blessing and a curse. The upside is that parties can fully investigate the factual basis for their claims. The downside is that the exploration comes at a cost of time and money.

To streamline the discovery process, many courts have adopted form interrogatories (i.e. written questions) and document requests for certain kinds of cases. For example, the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas has form discovery requests for use in premises liability and motor vehicle accident cases. These form requests avoid wrangling between the attorneys over whether a request is too broad. They can also be answered more quickly since attorney’s who expect the requests will tailor their intake forms and client questionnaires to get the information they know they will need for discovery. Continue Reading Mandatory Initial Discovery Pilot Program Aims to Help Save Time and Money

We trust our computers to handle our to-do lists and calendars because they never forget, right? While computers are good at remembering what we tell them (and a big thank you to Google for remembering my kids’ birthdays), one of the current weaknesses of artificial intelligence (AI) is that it cannot apply what it learns in a different scenario. For example, an AI that learns to play chess does not have a leg up when learning to play checkers. Essentially, computers have a “catastrophic forgetting” problem that forces them to relearn what they already knew just because they are presented with a new project.

Researchers are now making breakthroughs to overcome this ‘forgetfulness’ problem. Working in connection with neuroscientists, researchers are attempting to have AI learn more like humans so they can apply what they have learned in one context to another related context without starting over. In other words, teach computers to learn more like humans do so they stop forgetting what they already learned. Continue Reading Teaching Computers Not to Forget Could Cut the Costs of Litigation

I recently had an opportunity to speak to the Lancaster Area Paralegal Association at its Second Annual Civil Conference regarding practical tips for using of social media evidence in court.

One of the issues I was asked to address was the practical question of ‘how do you capture’ social media evidence. Social media evidence can be collected in one of two ways. First, the data can be “self-collected” either by the client or by the law firm. Examples of this type of collection would include taking screen shots of the relevant social media. Screenshots, however, often omit other relevant portions of that user’s social media page, resulting in the loss of potentially valuable information or making it more difficult to authenticate (more on that in the next article, Part II – How Do You Authenticate It). A better self-collection technique is to download or archive an entire account. For example, Facebook provides an option on the user settings page to download that user’s entire account. Self-collection generally works best when attempting to capture social media from your own client or a cooperative witness. Continue Reading Social Media Evidence in Court: Part I – How Do You Capture it?