What do lawyers mean when they refer to "motions" and "hearings"?
People often think the court only gets involved in wrongful death and personal injury cases at trial when jurors are assembled. That's not the case. In fact, throughout the many months (or years) of the lawsuit process, plaintiffs and defendants repeatedly ask the court to intervene and settle disputes between them. This is designed to help make the lawsuit process move faster by narrowing the issues that the parties are arguing about.
In this article, we'll discuss the reason lawyers file motions with the court, why courts hold hearings, and what it means to your case.
Questions Answered on This Page:
- How do motions and hearings work in a Texas personal injury case?
- What exactly is a motion and a hearing?
A "motion" is simply a request for the court to do something.
Back in the days of lawyers wearing wigs and robes, courts employed very formal language. Attorneys and judges used words more commonly found in a parliament than in the normal world. Of the very few of those words or phrases still surviving in the modern legal vocabulary, perhaps "motion" is the most prominent. When a lawyer makes a motion to the court, he or she is asking the court to apply its judgment and rule that they're right. Motions may be requests for something simple, or, a request that the court throw a case out entirely. It all depends on what an attorney wants.
The process usually starts with a written document filed with the court's clerk. The motion will state what the lawyer is asking the court to do, and then briefly explain why.
Courts hold hearings to test the parties' arguments and decide who is right.
After a lawyer in the case files a motion with the court, the judge will often require the parties to appear before the court to "argue" their motion. This allows a judge to directly question attorneys why the court should rule in their favor. These hearings are not "mini trials" where judges allow a bunch of witnesses to give sworn testimony, there are no jurors, and the clients themselves do not need to be there. It's almost always simply the judge and the lawyers present.
There are no "laws" governing how hearings are to be performed, but instead, the process differs for each judge. Some judges sit back and let the parties more or less duke it out over the issue at hand, while other judges manage their hearings like a strict professor directing which attorney to answer what question the judge thinks is relevant. Typically, the lawyer who filed the motion gets to speak first, then the other side gets to answer. Depending on the complexity of the issue and/or how the judge thinks he or she is going to rule, the hearing could last a few minutes or several hours.
For inexperienced attorneys, hearings can be especially difficult because unlike juries, judges talk back. It can be quite unnerving for a lawyer to make a statement and then hear the judge say "I doubt that's true" or "I think that's not the main issue." Hearings require attorneys to think very quickly on their feet to change gears to not what they want to talk about, but what the judge thinks is important. Further, hearings require an attorney to be not just informed about the facts of the case, but persuasive about why the court should rule in their favor.
Cases are won or lost in this stage of litigation.
All of this matters because motions and hearings courts have are not lightweight matters. Attorneys don't dare bother a court for something trivial, but prepare motions, file them, and go to hearings because the case depends on it. For example, a plaintiff might ask the court to disallow the defendant's key witness from testifying or a defendant might ask the court to rule that the plaintiff's case should be thrown out entirely because the plaintiff has no evidence that the defendant did anything wrong. Judges get very angry when attorneys file incomplete motions are aren't prepared for the questions they ask.
Regardless of the issue, it's important for your lawyer to know what they're doing when they go before the court
Other articles about personal injury cases that may be helpful:
- Special Considerations for People Who Have Suffered Burn Injuries
- What Should You Expect if Your Case Goes to Trial?
- What Is Negligence?