Q. What is a Plaintiff?
A plaintiff is the individual or company that filed the lawsuit against another individual or company.

Q. What is a Defendant?
A defendant is the individual or company that is being sued by the plaintiff.

Q. What is a Summons?
A summons is a command directing a defendant to take action within a specified time frame or be stuck with the consequences of the non-action which may include the entry of a default judgment for the full amount of the plaintiff’s claim followed by the plaintiff’s efforts to collect the unpaid portion of the judgment by remedies including garnishment and potential seizure of assets. A summons is issued by the court where the lawsuit was filed. The summons identifies the names of the parties and their addresses The summons identifies the case number assigned to the case (lawsuit) The summons typically identifies the name of the judge assigned to the case The summons identifies when the lawsuit was issued (processed) by the court and when the summons will expire. Common misperception: Many people confuse the expiration of the summons with the deadline to file an answer to the complaint. The distinction is critical. The expiration of the summons has nothing to do with the deadline to file an answer. Rather, the expiration of the summons is the deadline for the person or company that filed the lawsuit to serve the named defendant.

Q. What is a Complaint?
A complaint is a series of allegations (statements) that says the defendant did or did not do something and as a result the defendant is required to do something like pay a sum of money

Q. What is a Proof of Service?
A proof of service is a dated and signed statement filed with the court that a specified activity occurred on a specific date. An example includes a process server’s proof of service informing the court of both the manner and date that a summons and complaint was served on a defendant. Further significance is that the manner in which a summons and complaint is served determines the number of days until a required activity must be completed by the defendant. This proof of service of the summons and complaint example has further significance because
the proof of service is only filed with the court but not served on the party being served. All other proofs of service that are filed with the court must also be served on the opposing party. Other examples include all other pleadings, motions and discovery requests. Significance is that the date of the proof of service is used to count the number of days until a required activity must be completed by the party served with the demand.

Q. What is Mediation?
Mediation is a process by where a neutral mediator (usually a non-attorney) meets with the parties to see if the matter can be settled without further court proceedings. The discussions may not be used as evidence. If a party fails to appear then a dismissal or judgment enters.

Q. What is Case Evaluation?
Case evaluation requires each party to pay $75.00 in costs and to submit evaluation summaries. The summaries consist of a statement of fact and an analysis of the law to support a recommendation. The evaluators read the summaries and listen to the parties’ statements. The evaluators hen assign a dollar value as to the amount they believe the case should settle. There are multiple deadlines throughout the process and consequences concerning the deadlines and whether one or all parties’ accept or reject the evaluation recommendation.

Q. What is a Pre-Trial Conference?
A pre-trial conference is a court ordered hearing commanding that all parties attend or be subject to default or dismissal or other sanction. A pre-trial conference is an opportunity for the court to carve out a road map for both the parameters (scope) of what is allowed during the case and to fix deadlines for accomplishing certain activities leading up to the logical conclusion of the case.

Q. What is Discovery?
Discovery is a powerful tool which allows the parties to narrow the issues in an effort to sway the judge to decide the case in their favor based on the discovery results. Discovery commands a party to respond to a written request. Examples include requests to answer questions, produce documents, admit to facts or type of law, or to appear for a “deposition” which are questions and answers that is recorded by a court reporter and later used as evidence. Are there different types of discovery? Interrogatories Interrogatories are written commands to answer specific questions within 28 days from the date of the proof of service.

  1. Request to Produce
  2. Request to Produce are written commands to produce a copy of specific items, documents or things within 28 days from the date of the proof of service.
  3. Request to Admit
  4. Request to Admit are written commands to acknowledge the truth of specific questions within 28 days from the date of the proof of service.
    Request to Inspect
  5. Request to Inspect is a written command to meet at an agreed upon date, time and location to view evidence.
  6. Deposition A deposition includes a written demand to meet at an agreed upon location to testify truthfully under oath concerning answers to questions that are probably asked for the first time and the response is due immediately. The responses are later used for or against a person during the course of the case.

Q. What is a subpoena?
A subpoena is a command to appear and to produce something at a specified date, time and place.

Q. What is a Motion?
A motion is a request for the court to make a decision that impacts the case or decides what a party is required to do. The motion is written and the process is complex. A motion involves a combination of legal arguments based on facts, evidence, the application of law, the application of court rules and evidence. There are deadlines involved in the filing and service of the motion and any reply. There is typically a hearing before the judge at which time either party may be asked if they have anything further they would like to say regarding their position before the judge decides the request. There are significant consequences involved in this process and the judge’s decision. What is a Witness List? A witness list is a statement identifying the people that a party plans on introducing at trial to testify.

Q. What is an Exhibit List?
An exhibit list is a statement identifying evidence that a party plans on introducing at trial to support their position.

Q. What are Court Rules?
Court rules are guidelines that parties are required to follow in presenting their position. Court rules are voluminous and complex.

Q. What is Case Law?
Case law consists of prior judicial decisions and may shape the manner in which a judge will decide a case.

Q. What is a Statute?
A statute is a rule of law enacted by congressional legislation.

Q. What are Rules of Evidence?
Rules of evidence are guidelines that determine what evidence can be heard and when during the course of a case. Rules of evidence are voluminous and complex. An example includes hearsay. A person testifies in court about some other person’s statement as being truthful about a subject matter and when the original person that made the statement is not the one testifying in court. Another example includes relevance. Relevance goes to the issue as to whether certain evidence should be admitted in the case.

Q. What are Jury Instructions?
Jury instructions are guidelines that narrow the focus of what information may be considered in rendering a decision.

Q. What is Voir Dire?
Voir dire are questions that are asked to prospective jurors to determine if a potential juror should be allowed to sit on the jury panel that decides the case.

Q. What is a Jury Trial?
A jury trial is a case that is decided by a panel consisting of a group of peers from parties’ community that typically have no legal experience and are called upon to use their every-day experiences in rendering a decision based upon the evidence and the jury instructions. There is no way to know what to expect with a jury regarding the type of decision they will deliver.

Q. What is a Bench Trial?
A bench trial is a case decided by a judge after receiving testimony and physical evidence and applying the law concerning the matter in dispute. There is no way to guarantee a result but past decisions may be a predictor of the likelihood of a particular outcome.

Q. What is a Retainer Agreement?
A retainer agreement is a contract for legal services in the representation of a lawsuit. Examples of retainer agreements include:

  1. Flat Fee
    A flat fee retainer agreement specifies the total charge for legal services in advance of performing the services. A flat fee is always the same regardless of amount of time, energy and complexity of the case. The client knows exactly what they have to pay before entering the agreement. No hidden billing surprises. The only additional amount of money that would be required to be paid by the client is for actual costs that arise during the case that are charged by others such as by a court for a filing fee, a process server for serving a document or subpoena, or a court reporter for recording a deposition and making a copy (transcript). Costs are the same regardless of the type of retainer agreement.
  2. Hourly
    An hourly retainer agreement requires the client to pay as work is done. Hourly billing fees usually start at $150.00 per hour and billing rates in excess of $200.00 per hour is common. By way of example, an attorney that attends a single hearing may bill 3-4 hours for hearing preparation, attending the hearing and post hearing activity.
  3. Contingency
    A contingency retainer agreement is an outcome based pay scale. A typical contingency agreement is to pay 33.33% of the outcome. For example, a successful defense to a $10,000.00 lawsuit would require paying $3,333.33 to your attorney. Contingency agreements are most commonly found in personal injury cases.

Q. What is a Directed Verdict?
A direct verdict is a request made by a defendant at trial asking the judge to dismiss the case after the plaintiff has presented all of its evidence and before the defendant has to present any evidence.

Q. What is a Trial Verdict?
A trial verdict is the outcome of a case after all of the evidence has been presented to the judge or jury for consideration.

Q. What does Attorney-Client Privilege mean?
Attorney-client privilege means that communications between an attorney and the client are confidential so long as the communications do not concern a future illegal act or the privilege is not otherwise waived.

Q. What are the benefits of retaining an attorney instead of self-representation?
The benefits of retaining an attorney instead of self-representation are far too many to list. But to mention a few points include the fact that the legal system and process is confusing. Attorneys go to school to acquire a license to practice law. There are substantive, procedural and evidentiary considerations. There are nuances of prior experience concerning the same or similar issues or courts or judges that a single encounter will not contemplate or understand. There is the relief of allowing a trained attorney to handle the details and aspects of presenting
a coherent legal defense and seeking a meaningful solution on behalf of the client.


“Phil negotiated a very favorable settlement on a medical/credit card dispute that was charged-off. I was unaware of my rights in the matter and Phil was able to educate me and fight for my rights. I highly recommend Phil – one of the good guys!”

Kevin O., A Debt Settlement client, Metro-Detroit, State of Michigan