Civil litigation is litigation based on and brought under civil laws. Civil litigation is distinguished from criminal litigation in that the latter is litigation based on and brought under local, state and federal criminal laws. Civil litigation cases involve one person or group taking legal action in a court of law as opposed to cases in which the government prosecutes someone for a crime.
Civil procedure consists of the rules by which courts conduct civil trials. "Procedure" is to be distinguished from "substantive law" in that substantive law defines the rights and duties of everyday conduct. Substantive law includes contract law, tort law and so on.
A procedural system provides the mechanism for applying substantive law to real disputes. A good procedural system should provide guidelines as to what information is received by the judge or jury, how that information is to be presented and by what standards of proof the information will be judged (e.g., beyond a reasonable doubt, by clear and convincing evidence, by a preponderance of the evidence). A good procedural system ensures that similar cases will be treated similarly by the courts.
Although the majority of suits filed in the U.S. are settled before trial through negotiated settlements or arbitration, "civil procedure" applies only in formal courts of law.
Under the American "common law" system, the initial burden is on the complaining party (the plaintiff) to file suit in court. The plaintiff also has the initial burden of demonstrating he or she has a legitimate claim.
Civil procedure usually takes the form of a series of rules and judicial practices. The federal courts follow the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure; the state courts follow their own state rules of civil procedure.
The goal of litigation initially is to pursue a lawsuit and settle out of court. If both parties can reach a settlement, they save money by not enduring a trial. But because there is no way to know if a case will go to trial or settle, the process involved in litigation must proceed as if there will be a trial. All pretrial preparation must be made before the trial date.
The initial process in litigation involves interviewing the client pursuing action through legal means. The facts are obtained and an agreement is reached on what the lawsuit will be. After this will be a preliminary investigation that involves searching for items such as police reports and medical records.
The goal of civil litigation is to resolve a dispute that could not be resolved any other way. It is the last resort after all other efforts have failed. Mediation is often required before or after a civil lawsuit is filed, and many times the disputes are resolved by mediators.