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What happens at a civil court hearing?

A judge in a civil court hearing decides several kinds of legal issues. Formal civil court hearings look like a trial, just without a jury. The parties to the lawsuit may testify and present witnesses. In an informal civil court hearing, the attorneys meet with the judge prior to an upcoming trial to discuss a disagreement over a procedural aspect of the case. Typical disagreements may include what and how much evidence the jury will be allowed to hear at that trial.

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Participants at a formal hearing are the lawyers, the people involved in the lawsuit, any witnesses, and the presiding judge. In an informal hearing, usually just the lawyers present their positions to the presiding judge.


In a formal hearing, the lawyers sometimes meet with the judge prior to the start of the hearing to clear up any issues so the hearing proceeds smoothly. During the hearing, the lawyers will attempt to persuade the judge through the evidence that their client should receive a favourable judgment. In an informal setting, the lawyers have their legal arguments in mind before they meet with the judge and tactfully argue their positions in order to hopefully receive a favourable decision.

Format of formal hearing

In a formal hearing, the judge presides over the proceedings. The party who started the lawsuit, the plaintiff, begins the hearing. The plaintiff may present witnesses and other evidence in support of her case. The party defending the case, called the defendant, has the same opportunity. Both sides are subject to cross examination from the attorneys. A court stenographer records the testimony to create a transcript.

Format of informal hearing

In an informal setting, the hearing doesn't resemble anything like a trial. It's a meeting between the attorneys and the judge, sometimes in the judge's chambers, to discuss procedural disagreements over the case. The judge listens to both attorneys make legal arguments, and the judge determines which argument is correct.

Impact on the Case

The judge renders a ruling in both kinds of hearings. After a formal hearing, the judge usually issues a written decision, sometimes called an Opinion. After the informal hearing, the judge may verbally give his decision and memorialise the ruling through a written document called an Order of Court. The judge's ruling may change case strategy, facilitate settlement discussions, shorten or lengthen the upcoming trial and may otherwise change how the case is litigated.

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About the Author

Michael Martin began writing professionally in 2008. He has more than 10 years of experience in the insurance industry and primarily writes about legal issues. Martin holds a Juris Doctor from Albany Law School and is licensed to practice law in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

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