What is Civil Procedure?

Civil Procedure is a set of complicated rules that govern the conduct of civil litigation within the American justice system. Each state has its own Rules of Civil Procedure (the “Rules”), which are in large part based on the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

In other words, if the court system is like a machine, Civil Procedure is the user’s manual.  The Rules of Civil Procedure govern when, where, and how to initiate a lawsuit. They set forth time periods for service of process, responses, and defaults. They describe how and when motions can be filed. In short, they cover an enormous array of procedural options and maneuvers in prosecuting and defending a lawsuit.

Even if you’re not an attorney, if you have a solid grasp of the intricacies of Civil Procedure, you can dominate both in and out of the courtroom.  For example, buried in the Rules are a number of circumstance in which a plaintiff or defendant can have a lawsuit dismissed without ever reaching the substantive legal issues of the case.  This is often described as being dismissed “on a technicality.”

The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure

The User's Guide for Federal Court

The State Rules of Civil Procedure

The User's Guide for State Court

Many people unfamiliar with the justice system take issue whenever this happens, and it is especially frustrating for the pro se litigant- who may have a strong case only to see it go down the toilet thanks to an obscure procedural rule.  This underscores the vital importance of studying the Rules of Civil Procedure long before you step up to the Clerk’s office to file your lawsuit.