The courts use pretrial conferences, attended by the parties to a legal proceeding and their respective attorneys, for a variety of legal and procedural purposes. One commonly used pretrial conference is the “status conference,” which is held after all of the initial pleadings have been filed in the case. The status conference allows the parties to establish a time frame for management of all pretrial activities and set a tentative date for trial. To explore this concept, consider the following pretrial conference definition.
Definition of Pretrial Conference
- An informal conference held at court during which the parties, their attorneys, and the judge spell out the issues of the case. Often the judge encourages the parties to work toward a settlement in a civil lawsuit.
Purpose of Pretrial Conferences
Pretrial conferences serve a variety of purposes, most of which further the goal of efficiently managing the case at hand. Such purposes include:
- Expediting case disposition
- Establishing effective case management
- Facilitating settlement of the case without the need for a trial
- Improving trial quality and efficiency through preparation
- Discouraging wasteful and unproductive pretrial activities
Pretrial Conference in a Criminal Case
Pretrial conferences in a criminal matter cover different issues from civil lawsuits. For example, only issues that have nothing to do with whether or not the defendant is guilty may be determined at such a conference. In both federal and state courts, criminal pretrial conferences are commonly used to determine such matters as what evidence will be allowed at trial, and to what certain witnesses may be allowed to testify. Excluding evidence illegally obtained, or testimony that may be considered irrelevant, but which would prejudice the jury against one party, is a vital pretrial practice.
Pretrial Conference in a Civil Lawsuit
Civil lawsuits often balloon as the parties rush to file pleadings at the beginning of the suit. Pretrial conferences help the court:
- Clarify the actual issues of the lawsuit
- Eliminate frivolous claims
- Identify important documents and witnesses
- Obtain admissions of fact, avoiding the presentation of unnecessary evidence
- Establish a schedule for the filing of motions and pretrial briefs
- Rule on motions submitted prior to the conference
- Determine the possibility of settlement
- Discuss the possibility of consolidating a large or complex case
At the end of a pretrial conference, the judge issues an order reflecting the results of the conference, which controls the course of the case from that point forward.
Preparing for a Pretrial Conference Without an Attorney
It is not required that a person, whether a plaintiff or defendant, hire an attorney to represent them in their court case. In fact, many people choose to represent themselves in civil lawsuits. It is vital that an individual representing himself prepare for trial early, organizing his case even before the pretrial conference. The judge at the conference will question the parties about the number of witnesses they plan on calling, what evidence is to be presented, and may discuss other issues.
Documents that should be brought to the pretrial conference include the original Summons and Complaint, the Answer, copies of any motions or other legal documents received from the court or from the opposition, and any other documents pertinent to the case. No witnesses or actual physical evidence should be brought to the conference.
Because one of the purposes of the pretrial conference is to determine whether the matter can be settled without going to trial, it is important to have a game plan. How much it is likely to cost to continue to trial versus what it will cost to settle at the pretrial conference is a vital consideration for both parties. The judge is likely to encourage both parties to swallow their pride and meet somewhere in the middle. This saves money and precious time, both for the parties to the lawsuit and the court.
Issues to be Resolved in a Pretrial Conference
During the pretrial conference, a number of issues will be reviewed to determine how the trial should proceed, as well as whether there are some issues that do not need to be tried. Issues brought up at the conference may include:
- Triable issues – any issues or facts that remain in dispute
- Issues not in dispute – any issues or facts that have been agreed to by the parties
- What witnesses will be presented – a list of all witnesses each party intends to have testify
- Whether expert witnesses will be needed – any expert witnesses to be called by either party
- Pretrial motions – any motions to be determined prior to trial, such as barring certain witnesses, suppressing evidence, or a motion for summary judgment
- Follow up on outstanding discovery – discovery requested by either party to which no response has been provided
- Whether there are admissions to be made – admissions to certain facts, documents, and other evidence reducing the need to prove them at trial
Related Legal Terms and Issues
- Frivolous – Something of little importance, or which has no sound basis in fact or law.
- Summary Judgment – A final decision on the case, handed down by the judge on the basis of the statements and evidence presented, without a full trial.
- Expert Witness – A witness possessing training, education, skill, or experience in a specific subject, that is beyond that of the average person, who is allowed to give an opinion at trial.